Exploding airbag inflators strike again—1 million GM SUVs are recalled

Exploding airbag inflators strike again—1 million GM SUVs are recalled

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There’s another massive airbag safety scandal brewing. Last week, General Motors issued a recall for almost a million SUVs in order to replace potentially dangerous airbag inflators, the third such recall it has had to issue for this problem.

Many vehicles from other OEMs (including BMW, Hyundai Motor Group, and Stellantis) may also contain the same inflators, which can rupture during inflation, spraying shrapnel during a crash. But the supplier that manufactured the airbag inflators has rejected claims by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that there is a systematic defect.

The airbag inflators in question were manufactured by ARC Automotive, a tier-two automotive supplier based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and NHTSA has had an inkling of the problem for some years now. In fact, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation started a preliminary evaluation in 2015 of ARC’s airbag inflators and whether they could rupture dangerously, following two reports of people suffering shrapnel injuries during a crash when their driver’s airbag deployed.

The following year, NHTSA upgraded that preliminary evaluation into a full engineering analysis following news of a fatal incident in Canada involving an ARC airbag inflator in a 2009 Hyundai Elantra.

NHTSA says that 67 million airbag inflators of this design have been produced for the US market by 2018, including 11 million made by Delphi under license. Following 2018, ARC altered its manufacturing process to better detect debris; NHTSA says it has not seen any issues in airbag inflators made post-2018.

GM has actually conducted two recalls in the past to address this issue. In February 2022, it recalled 413 model-year 2013–2017 Chevrolet Traverse SUVs and 143 model-year 2008–2017 Buick Enclave SUVs as it believed they contained potentially suspect airbag inflators. Then, in April 2022, it recalled another 2,687 vehicles (542 model-year 2015 Buick Enclaves, 1,183 model-year 2015 Chevrolet Traverses, and 916 model-year 2015 GMC Acadias) for the same reason.

But in April of this year, GM learned that the front airbag in a model-year 2017 Chevrolet Traverse had its airbag ruptured during deployment by an ARC inflator. GM says that out of an abundance of caution, it is recalling all front airbag modules containing the problematic inflator. These were fitted to model-year 2014–2017 Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, and GMC Acadia SUVs—in total, 994,763 cars are affected.

GM also says it has been working with an independent engineering firm with expertise in airbags to determine the root cause of the failures, but it hasn’t arrived at an answer yet.

Owners of affected vehicles will be contacted by GM and will have their front driver airbag module replaced.

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