By on August 5, 2016

AirbagMain

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expanded its investigation into airbags manufactured by ARC Automotive following the July 8 death of a Hyundai driver in Canada.

According to Reuters, an airbag inflator in the vehicle ruptured, fatally injuring the driver. The death is similar to those caused by faulty Takata airbags, and the investigation could add millions of vehicles to an already massive airbag recall list.

The investigation covers eight million airbag inflators used by General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The automakers used the airbags through 2004, but the NHTSA says newer vehicles could be affected.

Spokesman Bryan Thomas told Reuters that the NHTSA will “direct the collection and testing of inflators as part of its effort to determine the root cause of the rupture incidents.”

The vehicle involved in the fatal crash was a 2009 Hyundai Elantra — a Canadian model with an ARC airbag inflator assembled in China. Airbags in U.S.-bound ’09 Elantras didn’t use the Chinese-made ARC inflator.

After faulty Takata airbags led to 13 deaths, the NHTSA started looking into other airbag manufacturers. It opened an investigation into ARC last year after uncovering two reported injuries caused by ruptured airbag inflators. That probe covered 490,000 vehicles.

Takata inflators use ammonium nitrate as a propellant, while Tennessee-based ARC uses a small amount of the chemical, plus a pressurized gas. Speaking to the New York Times, a spokesman for Hyundai expressed condolences on behalf of the automaker and said the company would cooperate with American and Canadian regulators in their investigations.

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43 Comments on “NHTSA Investigating Another Airbag Death, but This Time It Isn’t Takata...”


  • avatar
    Dilrod

    I wonder if my 2003 Hyundai XG will one of these….

  • avatar

    I’m sure there’s not anything to be discovered here. The words “Made In China” assures the highest quality in design, manufacturing and assembly. Just another freak accident. Maybe the motorist set out to commit suicide by airbag.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I wouldn’t trust any airbag made in China. Hell, they could be using powder from Black Cats for propellant.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      Sure, blame the Chinese and not at all the American company that chose to use ammonium nitrate as the explosive?
      It’s like blaming Mexico for the Takata disaster instead of blaming Takata. You’re just being a racist here if you’re choosing to blame this on the Chinese instead of the manufacturer.

  • avatar

    A top retired GM safety researcher concluded several years ago that air bags were slightly net positive for men, slightly net negative for women, and should have been made optional equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      What can he tell us about cars that run on water?

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Front airbags are basically useless, assuming the driver and passenger wear their belts.

      • 0 avatar
        Testacles Megalos

        Probably 15 years ago I had this discussion with a restraint engineer. What he said made a lot of sense.

        Collision survivability is primarily a dual function of crumple zones (to absorb Joules) and restraint system (to spread the remaining Joules absorbed by the human body over time, thereby lessening decellerations).

        Seat belts in a non-crush car are not optimally effective.
        No seat belts in a crush car still involves occupant-car impact/sudden decellerations.

        Seat belts save lives.
        Airbags keep the orthodontic surgeon away.

        Having first hand experience, so does the chin bar on a helmet.

      • 0 avatar
        orenwolf

        “Front airbags are basically useless, assuming the driver and passenger wear their belts.”

        This statement is dangerously untrue.

        “In frontal crashes, frontal airbags reduce driver fatalities by 29 percent and fatalities of front-seat passengers age 13 and older by 30 percent. The fatality reduction in frontal crashes is larger for belted drivers (52 percent) compared with unbelted drivers (21 percent). NHTSA estimates that the combination of an airbag plus a lap and shoulder belt reduces the risk of death by 51 percent, compared with a 45 percent reduction for belts alone in frontal crashes.

        Institute researchers found an overall reduction in fatal crash risk associated with newer depowered airbags compared with earlier designs. 2 A 2006 NHTSA study reported that redesigned airbags reduced fatality risk to child passengers by 45 percent, compared with pre-1998 airbags — without reducing the benefits for adults. ”

        http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/airbags/qanda (#4)

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Aging airbags seems to be a growing issue… as they age.

      Obviously, the Takata airbags had a design defect concealed with false test results. But in general, I wonder how reliable an ever-growing fleet of airbags can be when subject to all the conditions in the field.

      Really, we’re asking for well over 6-sigma reliability on a product that sits idle for 20 years or so.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        “Really, we’re asking for well over 6-sigma reliability on a product that sits idle for 20 years or so.”

        Another reason to avoid old cars like plague.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          I wouldn’t avoid an older car, but it’s obvious now that airbags are a wear item, with a limited useful life, that should be replaced over time. I suspect there are other safety items that should be replaced over time, particularly electronic nannies, but they’re not designed to be replaced, and can be only at exorbitant cost.

        • 0 avatar
          punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

          Hit the nail on the head on that statement.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      The whole airbag push was because the govt couldn’t figure out how to get people to wear seat belts. And the fatal wrecks you read about / see on local news the belts typically belts aren’t worn.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Yep, airbags were originally designed to restrain unbelted occupants. They tried the seat belt-ignition interlock idea (starting with 1974 models), but that lasted a little over a year before that got rescinded. I still remember those, and how easy they were to defeat or disconnect/disable.

      • 0 avatar
        orenwolf

        While that may have been true back then, modern vehicles use seatbelts as part of this system. Your car determines (by seat position) how far away you are from the airbag, and seatbelt pretensioners actually yank you backwards and into position before the airbag deploys. Of course this means that in an accident, you also have to refill these pretensioners as well as the airbags themselves, but given the safety these offer, it’s a small price to pay in a collision, IMHO.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          From the beginning, they’ve been labeled SRS – Supplemental Restraint System. The primary is always the lap and shoulder seat belts, and they work best with functional tensioners, crush zones, collapsible steering wheels, padded dash, etc. You can survive a serious crash with seatbelts in use and no airbags, but you’re less likely to survive the same crash with the airbag alone.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Is there any general consensus regarding airbags in older cars? I have a few cars from the early-mid 1990s (1990 Miata, 1994 E320 Cab, and a 1996 300ZX) with all stock interiors. I think Mercedes actually recommended changing airbags every ten years but I’ve never heard of anyone going through this expense.

    I like to keep my cars stock, but I do wonder about what would happen in a serious accident with a 25 year old airbag. What about replacing steering wheels with non-airbag aftermarket parts? Can the passenger-side bag be removed while leaving the dash looking intact? I don’t drive these cars every day, they are summer and weekend cars, so spending thousands to replace airbags wouldn’t make much sense, either. I don’t want to be paranoid, but the technology has come a long way since then I’m driving my kids around in these cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Yep. You can certainly replace the OEM airbag steering wheel with one that doesn’t have an airbag on most cars. As long as it bolts in. Or just (very carefully) remove the airbag from the inside of the airbag cover, to keep the OEM look. Make sure you unplug the battery and let the system discharge for a few hours before you do anything, and wear antistatic equipment so you don’t set it off while handling it.

      You can do the same for the passenger side. Just go behind the dashboard and remove the airbag. You’ll probably need to bypass the SRS system after all this, so you don’t get an annoying instrument-panel light.

      Or, if you want, you can rig up the steering wheel to spray confetti in your face if you crash :P

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Remember the old catalytic converter eliminating “test tubes” they used to sell? Here’s a market for “airbag replacement” pads.

        • 0 avatar
          dukeisduke

          Back then (when states weren’t doing emissions tests), you could also pull the cat and use a hammer and a big a$$ screwdriver to knock out the substrate, leaving the cat an empty shell, but still stock-appearing from the outside.

          A friend of mine did that for a couple of people whose cats died, to save them money.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Capacitors in the airbag system can hold a charge for hours. There are documented cases of post MVC deployment injuring EMT’s.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Good point.

          Maybe wait a day.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          That is why you follow the proper procedure to drain the capacitors. Disconnect the negative cable from the batter and then either hold the negative cable to the positive or use a jumper wire to connect them electrically. Just be sure to cover that negative post so the memory of the negative cable doesn’t make it spring back in contact while that jumper is still connected.

    • 0 avatar
      Jagboi

      Some airbags are mechanical too, and require a special disarming tool/procedure. Disconnecting the battery will do nothing for them.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I’m almost tempted to pull the driver’s side bags on my Toyotas, to see who made them. I’m hoping it’s TRW.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      If it’s like a GM, it takes about 5 minutes.
      Just some spring clips accessed from the dash side of the steering wheel.
      Probably on YouTube or visit a local Pick-a-part and view some on wrecked vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Of course you disconnect the battery first, and leave it disconnected for a few minutes. I’ve removed bags before, just not on my current vehicles. Toyota uses double-locking connectors for all SRS-related stuff. A connector that plugs in, then a yellow spring-loaded cover that snaps down over the male part of the connector.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Most cars are that way. My E70 X5 was, when I swapped from the base steering wheel to the sport one. Surprisingly, the paddles on the upgraded sport wheel were completely plug-and-play; the forums had said they wouldn’t be and that they would need to be coded.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “2009 Hyundai Elantra — a Canadian model with an ARC airbag inflator assembled in China. Airbags in U.S.-bound ’09 Elantras didn’t use the Chinese-made ARC inflator.”

    Hyundai cares about Americans more than Canadians!

  • avatar
    lonborghini

    Will it ever occur to anyone that explosive devices inside our cars might be dangerous?

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    All those junk bin necklaces hanging from that mirror show for whom airbags are necessary.

    We are such total pricks to Darwin.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    i remember about 38 years ago someone wrote an article about cars having air bags installed as original equipment. The point was brought up that when these cars are junked they will be time bombs waiting to go off. Back in those days kids would go to the junk yards and try to pull out radios and other dashboard parts to put into their own cars. (I remember doing this as a kid) It was mentioned in the article that some of these kids will be killed when the air bag goes off. Will now they go off driving down the road. I would restore certain cars during the winter months Miata’s, Beetles and a few VW Cabriolet’s. Used them during the summer for a few years as insurance was cheap and then sold them for a nice profit. Many of them had Airbags but butchers installing after market radios and gauges the wiring was a problem to clean up. I found the safest thing was to replace the steering wheel and remove the entire airbag system. I don’t think i would want to drive a 20 year old car now knowing what i know now.

  • avatar

    It’s becoming very apparent to me that the entire airbag industry is riddled with upper level management corruption and manufacturing of what is supposed to be a life-saving device is being carelessly thrown to the lowest bidder with little or no oversight, often in countries with an unskilled and lackadaisical workforce being paid dollars per week. Why? There’s no incentive to produce a quality product when you’re one of only four companies in the WORLD that make that product, the consumer will never know the difference and governments all over will continue to require that your product be installed whether customers want them or not. Talk about getting to nail the goose that lays the golden egg for the rest of all time. No wonder the cretins that run companies like Takata and ARC couldn’t care less about the people who are dying at the hands of their deliberately defective products because it will never come back on them and the check already cleared so…yeah. Job done! Now to wait and see what sort of calamity AutoLiv and TRW can come up with so they can level the playing field against ARC and the well-established dashboard claymore mine manufacturer, Takata.

    I am seriously considering having the airbags in my Elantra removed as a result of this. I’d much rather eat the steering wheel than bleed to death because some suited up corporate bigwig needs to buy a new Gulfstream.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Have you considered taking a course in statistics? Fewer than one in a million 20 year old airbags have malfunctioned.

      Life incurs risk. If you don’t like it, embrace the alternative.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        yeah, but we only know of failures of airbag inflators *which were deployed.* There are tens of millions of suspect inflators out there; we can’t predict which ones will burst when deployed. Heck, we can’t even predict how many (or which ones) of those inflators will ever be deployed!

        that uncertainty is why they are all recalled. Takata can’t point to a limited root cause. If you’ve seen other recalls, a lot have been worded “The recall covers vehicles built between such-and-such dates.” Since Takata doesn’t really have any of that identified, they all have to be assumed to be defective.

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