In April 2019, the Associated Press reported that an investigation into faulty airbags had expanded to include 12.3 million vehicles. This most recent investigation involves airbags that may not inflate in a crash. The TF-ZRW control units that are installed in the vehicles are believed to be the cause of the malfunction. The investigation comes in the midst of a massive recall of vehicles with faulty Takata airbag inflators, which may cause the airbag to explode. Read on for more information.
ZF, a German auto parts maker which acquired TRW Automotive in 2015, has stated that it is cooperating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into the control units. NHTSA documents reveal that the control units can fail in a crash, possibly due to electrical signals produced by the crash itself. The electrical signals can also damage the airbag control circuit housed in the passenger compartment. The investigation was opened in 2017, following the reporting of four deaths potentially caused by the problem in Hyundai-Kia vehicles and another three in Fiat Chrysler cars. Those two automakers have already issued voluntary recalls due to the issue, while the NHTSA has moved closer to recalls by upgrading its preliminary evaluation to an engineering analysis.
The upgrade came on the heels of two serious crashes that involved 2018 and 2019 Toyota Corollas in which the airbags didn’t inflate. One death resulted in the most recent crashes. Toyota has stated that it is currently conducting its own investigation into the issue while also cooperating with the NHTSA probe.
The cars currently recalled due to the faulty control unit include:
- 2010-2013 Kia Forte compact cars in the United States
- 2011-2013 Kia Optima midsize cars in the United States
- 2011-2012 Optima hybrid and Sedona minivans
- 2011-2013 Hyundai Sonata midsize cars
- 2011-2012 Sonata hybrid
- 2010 Chrysler Sebring
- 2011-2014 Chrysler 200
- 2010-2012 Dodge Caliber
- 2010-2014 Dodge Avenger
- 2010-2014 Jeep Patriot and Compass
- 2012-2013 Lancia Flavia
Investigators state that the same electronic component responsible for causing the airbag malfunction is also responsible for controlling seat belt pre-tensioners, meaning that the seat belts in vehicles containing the ZF-TRW airbags may also malfunction in a crash. In May 2019, Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America were named as defendants in a federal lawsuit seeking class action certification. The suit alleges that the automakers failed to tell customers that certain new vehicles contain faulty airbags.
Worldwide Takata Recall
According to the NHTSA, tens of millions of vehicles were recalled due to faulty Takata airbag inflators that may explode when exposed long-term to high heat and humidity. As of the April 2019 Associated Press report, the airbag inflators were responsible for at least 24 deaths when they exploded due to force and caused metal shrapnel to shoot out through the passenger cabin. In the U.S., the issue has caused the deaths of 16 people and injured more than 250. By the end of 2019, experts believe that the recall in the U.S. will be expanded to about 70 million vehicles, with more than 100 vehicles recalled worldwide.
Vehicles involved in the Takata recall come from a number of different makes and models. Some of the makes currently involved include Acura (Honda), Audi (VW), BMW, Cadillac (GM), Chevrolet (GM), Chrysler, Daimler Trucks North America (Sterling Bullet), Daimler Vans USA LLC (Sprinter), Dodge/ Ram Chrysler, Ferrari, Fisker (Karma), Ford, GMC (GM), Honda, Infiniti (Nissan), Jaguar, Jeep (Chrysler), Land Rover (Jaguar Land Rover), Lexus (Toyota), Lincoln (Ford), Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury (Ford), Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac (GM), Saab (GM), Saturn (GM), Scion (Toyota), Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
At particular risk of malfunctioning are the alpha airbags found in certain models of 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles, 2006 Ford Ranger, and Mazda B-series trucks, the NHTSA reported. In managing the recall in the U.S., the NHTSA categorized potentially affected vehicles by zones, depending on the climate in that particular zone. Vehicles located in hot and humid climates were recalled first, as heat and humidity were discovered to be the cause of the malfunction. The zones are:
- Zone A: Vehicles in hot and humid areas including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Zone B: Vehicles in less hot and humid locations, including Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
- Zone C: Vehicles located in the least hot and humid areas, such as Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
What You Should Do
If you think that your vehicle is involved in one of the above-mentioned recalls, here are some things you can do:
- If your vehicle is currently under recall, you should have received a notice in the mail from your vehicle’s manufacturer. If you did not receive this notice, you can enter your VIN here to check and see if your vehicle is subject to a recall.
- Because every recall represents a serious risk, if you discover that your vehicle is subject to a recall, you can contact your dealer to have the issue with the vehicle fixed for free. If your dealer refuses to fix the problem, you can contact the manufacturer or report the problem to the NHTSA.
- Some manufacturers are replacing recalled Takata airbags with newer airbags by the same manufacturer. This is just an interim replacement, and these airbags are going to eventually need to be replaced as well. In the meantime, the NHTSA reports, the interim replacement will be safer than the original. Unfortunately, if you accept an interim replacement, your car will be considered a lower priority for a final replacement.
Were you injured in an accident that a defective auto part caused? If so, an attorney can help you understand the legal options that are available to you.