Vehicle air bags are supposed to save lives, but if they deploy unexpectedly they can set off accidents and cause injuries. Following a record year of automotive safety recalls in which an exploding air bag problem was the main contributor, the industry is still identifying defects in the safety systems.
The Toyota Prius hybrid, Honda Odyssey minivan and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV are among 10 models recalled so far this year to fix problems that can cause air bags to inadvertently deploy for various reasons, according to an analysis of the latest data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released Monday.
The latest air bag-related recall covers certain 2014 and 2015 model year Jeep Cherokees and underscores problems the industry faces with the systems. The Jeep Cherokee recall of nearly 168,000 vehicles in the U.S. has pushed the total number of cars covered by inadvertent air bag deployment to about 2.31 million vehicles so far this year.
“These vehicles can achieve vehicle angles during off-road driving events which may exceed the Occupant Restraint Control (ORC) module rollover calibration thresholds,” said a recall notice to dealers from FCA US (formerly Chrysler Group), which owns the Jeep brand. In other words, the vehicle thinks the car is rolling over in certain rugged conditions and deploys the air bags when they aren’t needed. The solution, FCA says, is a software upgrade provided by its dealerships. The problem has also been identified in Jeep Cherokees sold in South Africa.
Last year, nearly 12 million vehicles across 10 automakers in the U.S. were recalled for explosive air bag inflators made by Takata Corp., one of the largest makers of air bag systems worldwide. Four of the largest recalls last year (from Toyota, Nissan, General Motors and Ford) involved other problems leading to air bags failing to deploy, such as wiring problems in some 2010 Toyota Highlanders and electronic circuitry glitches in some 2014 Ford Fusions. Air bag-related recalls covered 16.7 million vehicles last year, according to NHTSA data.
Toyota announced the largest of the air-bag recalls so far this year, covering about a million Corolla compacts, Avalon full-sized sedans and Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks (built under an now-expired joint venture with General Motors) dating as far back as the 2003 model year. That problem pertains to an electrical glitch that can cause front air bags to deploy by accident. More than 364,000 Honda Odyssey minivans and 753,000 of FCA’s Jeep Libertys, Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Vipers were also recalled for the same reason.
“The airbag deployed for no reason when driving on freeway at speed of 65 m.p.h.,” a 2003 Jeep Liberty owner wrote in a complaint to the NHTSA in 2011, according to the New York Times. “Very dangerous. Cannot see road in front of me because of inflated airbag and kind of dust.”
On Jan. 31, the NHTSA said it was aware of three injuries related to the electrical problem. About a million of the Toyota and Honda vehicles also have the exploding Takata air bag inflator problem, which means in some cases the inadvertent air bag deployment could lead to injury from the explosive inflator.
In addition to the millions of cars recalled so far this year for inadvertent air bag deployment, nearly 5,000 Toyota Prius hybrids from the 2014 and 2015 model years have incorrectly calibrated sensors that could lead to a seat to fail to detect occupants, which means front passenger air bags might not deploy in accidents.
Owners can check if their cars have been recalled at NHTSA or manufacturers’ websites using the unique Vehicle Identification Number.