90,000 old BMWs too dangerous to drive due to airbag recall, maker says

90,000 old BMWs too dangerous to drive due to airbag recall, maker says

Enlarge / The E46 BMW 3 Series is highly appreciated by enthusiasts, but there’s no excuse to not have replaced the Takata airbag by now.


In 2015, the largest automotive recall in US history began, due to faulty airbag inflators manufactured by the automotive supplier Takata. At first, 32 million cars were recalled, but the following year, that number grew to as many as 67 million airbags in 42 million vehicles, with at least 24 people killed due to the defective parts. But quite a few recalled cars have not yet had their airbags replaced, and on Thursday, BMW issued a “do not drive” warning to approximately 90,000 owners, telling them to park their vehicles if they have not been fixed.

The problem is a lack of a desiccant or chemical drying agent that would otherwise prevent the ammonium nitrate propellant from taking on moisture due to long-term exposure to heat and humidity. As the propellant ages and takes on moisture, it can fail to properly inflate the airbag during a crash and may even throw metal shrapnel around the vehicle interior.

Takata knew from testing as early as 2000 that some of its airbags might not deploy properly, with the first US incident occurring in 2004. In 2009, a driver in Oklahoma was killed when the airbag in a Honda Accord ruptured, and later that year, Honda recalled half a million cars to fix the problem.

In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a formal defect investigation into Takata’s airbags, and the following year, Takata agreed with NHTSA that its inflators were defective, earning $200 million in penalties in the process.

Unfortunately, not every owner has had the recall performed, and there are still millions of cars on the road with increasingly dangerous airbags.

Last November, Stellantis issued a “do not drive” warning for approximately 276,000 Dodge Magnums, Chargers, and Challengers, as well as Chrysler 300Cs, all from model years 2005–2010. In February of this year, Honda issued a “do not drive” warning for about 8,200 model-year 2001–2003 Hondas and Acuras, including the fact that the airbags, now between 20 and 25 years old, suffer a 50 percent failure rate.

Park your car if it’s not fixed

Now, BMW says that 90,000 model-year 2000–2006 3 Series (the E46 version, including the M3), model-year 2000–2003 5 Series (the E39, and yes, the M5, too), and model-year 2000–2004 X5s (the E53) have yet to have their front airbags from Takata replaced yet.

“We cannot state strongly enough just how urgent it is for our customers to take this warning seriously,” said Claus Eberhart, vice president of aftersales at BMW of North America. “We know these airbags only become more dangerous over time, which is why we are taking yet another step to get these parts out of our vehicles. Customers must park these vehicles immediately and take a few moments to check if their vehicle is safe for them and their family members to drive. Repairing these vehicles is quick, easy to arrange, and is completely free of charge.”

NHTSA would similarly like to see the affected vehicles be fixed immediately. “If you have a model year 2000–2006 BMW with a recalled Takata air bag, get it repaired immediately—for free. These inflators are two decades old now and, with every day that passes, they become even more dangerous as they can rupture even in a minor crash,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman.

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