More than 30 million U.S. drivers don’t know if they’re at risk from rare but dangerous airbag explosions – Wake Up Call

Tom Krisher (AP Auto Writer)

DETROIT (AP) — More than 33 million people in the United States drive potentially deadly vehicles. Airbag inflators can explode in rare collisions, creating debris.

Few people know that.

And due to disputes between federal safety regulators and airbag component makers, it’s unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

The U.S. Highway Traffic Safety Administration is calling on Knoxville, Tenn., manufacturer ARC Automotive to recall 67 million inflators that can explode with enough force to blast metal canisters and scatter debris. . The ARC, however, has refused to do so and is preparing a potential court case with the agency.

NHTSA argues the recall is justified because ARC inflators have killed two people and injured at least seven others in the United States and Canada. The explosions first occurred in 2009 and have continued this year.

After an eight-year investigation, NHTSA tentatively concluded that the inflator was defective. Agency documents show that the inflators date from at least the 2002 model year to January 2018, when ARC installed equipment on the production line that could detect potential safety issues.

One of the dead was Marlene Bauduin, a 40-year-old mother of 10 from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 2021, she had a minor crash in her 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV and was hit by a piece of metal. She and her four sons died. I was on my way to buy ice cream. Her sons were not injured.

ARC said no safety flaws existed, NHTSA’s request was based on hypotheses rather than technical conclusions, NHTSA had no authority to order parts manufacturers to implement recalls, and automakers were responsible for recalls. ARC claims that

In a letter to NHTSA, ARC said no automaker had found a common defect in all 67 million inflators, and no root cause of the failed inflators had been identified.

“ARC believes these were due to random ‘one-off’ manufacturing anomalies that were duly addressed by automakers through lot-specific recalls,” the letter reads.

NHTSA said in a statement that both ARC and automakers are responsible for recalls and can ask parts makers that supply multiple automakers to do so.

The next step is for NHTSA to issue a final ruling on whether the inflator is defective and then hold a public hearing. ARC could be taken to court to seek a recall order. NHTSA has not said when or if any of this will happen.

On the other hand, owners of cars made by at least a dozen automakers, including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Hyundai, Kia, etc. I feel uneasy that the driver or the driver is in the car. Passenger seat inflator is made by ARC. (Some vehicles have ARC inflators on both sides.)

ARC supplies inflators that are included in other manufacturers’ airbags, so there is no easy way for vehicle owners to determine if their inflators are made by ARC. Neither NHTSA, ARC nor the automakers have released a complete list of affected models.

The conflict with ARC has left automakers struggling to keep track of how many inflators their vehicles have. Automakers are also asking NHTSA if they should initiate recalls. Automakers know many of the affected models. But many people said they are still gathering information from later models to identify which vehicles have the affected inflators.

“We are still investigating,” said Ford spokeswoman Maria Bukowski. “We’ve never seen an ARC airbag inflator explode at the scene,” she said.

“We don’t know the final number of vehicles built with ARC inflators, but the team is collecting data,” said Kia Motors spokesman James Bell.

Toyota confirmed that some vehicles have ARC inflators, but declined to comment further.

Other automakers said they were cooperating with the government to try to determine the cause or did not respond to the Associated Press’ request for information.

NHTSA claims that welding by-products from manufacturing can clog the vents in the inflator canister, which are designed to allow gas to escape for quick filling of the airbag in the event of a crash. The pressure builds up and can blow the canister out.

Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Automobile Safety, called on NHTSA and automakers to release a list of affected vehicles.

“I think customers have a right to know if their car has a potential defect, especially if it’s a few inches from the chest and could explode.” said Brooks.

He said the situation was reminiscent of the early stages of the 2001 Takata airbag inflator recall, which took years to announce all affected models.

Both ARC and Takata used ammonium nitrate to inflate their airbags. Brooks said Takata’s situation is even more dangerous because the chemicals used in the inflator can degrade over time when exposed to high heat and humidity. Unlike Takata, ARC uses ammonium nitrate only as a secondary chemical to inflate airbags. The ARC issue seems more likely to be due to a manufacturing defect.

From 2017 to 2022, the ARC issue caused seven minor recalls from automakers. On the same Friday that NHTSA announced its action against ARC, General Motors announced a recall of nearly one million more vehicles.

The company announced a recall of some 2014-2017 GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave SUVs due to possible ARC inflators that could explode. The recall comes after GM was reported earlier this year that the driver’s airbag had exploded on the 2017 Traverse. GM said it doesn’t know what caused the inflator to explode, but has hired an engineering firm to help investigate.

The ARC said in a statement that it “does not agree to NHTSA’s new blanket request if extensive field testing does not reveal inherent flaws.”

While the recall request is being sorted out, Mr. Brooks of the Center for Automotive Safety urged vehicle owners of the 12 affected brands to disclose to dealers whether their particular vehicle has an ARC inflator. Recommended.

“The more customers complain, the more pressure it puts on manufacturers,” he said. More than 30 million U.S. drivers don’t know if they’re at risk from rare but dangerous airbag explosions – Wake Up Call

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