NHTSA Opens Federal Investigation into Airbag Failures
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NHTSA Opens Federal Investigation into Airbag Failures

Friday, July 13, 2018By Nina Shapirshteyn

Four people died and six were injured due to airbag deployment failures in Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The six crashes all involved the front-ends of the automobiles. The defect is believed to affect approximately 425,000 cars made by Hyundai and Kia. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation to examine these deaths and assess whether other vehicles pose similar risks.

The probe affects 2011 Hyundai Sonata midsize cars and 2012 and 2013 Kia Forte compact vehicles. Reports indicate that the airbag failures resulted from an electrical problem in the air bag control system known as an electrical overstress condition (EOS). EOS occurs when an electronic component reaches a voltage level beyond its limit. Because of the short circuit issue, Hyundai issued a recall in February of 155,000 model year 2011 Sonata vehicles. Kia did not initiate a similar recall since it had not independently determined that its airbag failures resulted from a fault in the electrical system. Yet, NHTSA received notice of a collision involving a 2012 Kia Forte that resulted in a passenger’s death. In that crash, the airbag failed to deploy.

As part of its probe, NHTSA will analyze whether the recall initiated by Hyundai was adequate and whether the Kia vehicles involved in the collision were equipped with the faulty airbag control unit. NHTSA will also examine whether the same computer parts used in the affected vehicles have been installed in other automakers’ vehicles. The parts supplier, ZF-TRW, has not yet disclosed the names of other manufacturers who use its parts, but it maintains that it is cooperating with the NHTSA investigation. The company has not yet proposed a repair.

ZF-TRW has been involved in other recalls for faulty airbag deployment mechanisms. In 2016, a worldwide recall for 1.9 million Fiat Chrysler cars and SUVs was initiated for a short circuit issue that disabled the airbags. In that recall, the cars were equipped with computers also made by ZF-TRW. Several serious injuries resulted when a number of those Chrysler vehicles experienced airbag failures in frontal crashes.

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