By on March 17, 2018

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a probe into two older-model Kia and Hyundai vehicles in the wake of six head-on collisions, hoping to discover why the vehicles’ airbags failed to deploy.

Included in the investigation is the 2011 Hyundai Sonata and Kia Fortes from the 2012 and 2013 model years. The collisions reported by the safety agency resulted in four deaths and six injuries.

According to the NHTSA, each collision caused significant damage to the vehicle, and should have led to front airbag deployment. This didn’t happen. The agency received the accident reports between 2012 and 2017.

Four of the collisions occurred in 2011 Sonatas sold in the United States, with a 2012 Forte and Canadian-market 2013 model rounding out the group. Naturally, part of the agency’s probe will determine whether airbags in other models might be affected. Some 425,000 vehicles currently fall under the NHTSA probe.

Speaking to Reuters, Hyundai brand spokesman Jim Trainor said the automaker is aware of two fatalities, adding that the head-on collisions occurred at a high rate of speed. The problem seems to exist only in 2011 Sonatas, he said.

Last month, Hyundai issued a recall for 154,753 Sonatas in the U.S. after receiving reports of airbag non-deployment.

“Hyundai indicates that the DIR stemmed from post-collision inspections of the air bag control units (ACUs) showing that an electrical overstress condition (EOS) of an ACU electronic component occurred in three of the crashes, and that the fourth ACU is under evaluation for the same concern,” the NHTSA said in its investigation summary. “Hyundai has not identified a remedy for this recall, and states that the cause of the EOS is being investigated with the ACU supplier, ZF-TRW.”

It’s believed the Forte models are equipped with the same ACUs.

[Image: Hyundai]

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24 Comments on “NHTSA Investigates Why Kia, Hyundai Airbags Didn’t Deploy in Fatal Crashes...”

  • avatar

    Takata all over again?

    Or ZF-TRW this time?

    • 0 avatar

      No, this sounds like an activation signal issue and not a problem with the inflation module.

      • 0 avatar

        Based on the report here, I’m pretty sure it is a fault in the inflation module. The module has to store sufficient energy to trigger the airbags even if the vehicle electrical system is affected by the collision and deliver current to the airbags to trigger them at the correct time.

        It sounds like maybe when the module went to deliver the current to the airbag, a transistor failed and disabled the module. Could be that the components were not up to spec or they haven’t aged well. It’s hard to properly test a device which isn’t expected to work twice. Many airbag controllers have to be replaced if any airbags are deployed, even in a minor accident.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree that it could very well be the inflation module. Maybe the OEM erred on the side of caution in the design and put in too many safety features.

          Regardless, the airbags failed when they needed to work. That’s not good news.

          How many other car brands will be affected? No one knows now, but time will tell.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the SRS light was on before the accidents? The SRS light in my daughter’s 2012 Forte Koup has been on for a little while now, and I’d been thinking about having the codes pulled at AutoZone, to see if they can pull SRS codes. Now I’m wondering if it might be covered by a potential recall. It’s got over a 100,000 miles on it (112k), so it probably won’t be covered by the warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Safety issues are covered forever. Remember, some of those Takata airbags go back to 2002 and earlier.
      I’d definitely get those codes checked, but probably by the dealer.

  • avatar

    If they had Takata bags maybe it’s better they didn’t go off.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    My mother has a 2012 Sonata Limited that’s had a few airbag issues, so this is cause for concern. I already think the car has disintegrated into a pieece of crap at this point and that she and my stepfather should trade it in (and not on another Hyundai), but since it’s their money and not mine, I can’t force them.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s funny you should say this. We bought a 2011 Sonata about 4 years ago and while it hasn’t ever left us stranded, it has had it’s fair share of minor issues. Windshield washer pump died, hood struts don’t hold hood up, cruise buttons stopped working, painted plastic on steering wheel chipping, AC will not start blowing cold until engine is revved multiple times. Can’t remember what else. For a car that has done <50K miles, this isn't great. Our other car, a 2010 Camry, seems much, much better built.

    • 0 avatar

      People can say what they want to about how far the Koreans have come, but they still have a bit to go, especially in the area of long-term quality.

      • 0 avatar

        I have owned several Hyundai cars since 2004 and none of them required any warranty work. currently, drive a G80 Genesis and zero problems

        • 0 avatar

          The 2011 Elantra we bought new for our grand daughter in 2011 served her long and well, without any problems or dealer visits.

          However, the new owner told us that the nit-noy problems are coming out now, usually one right after the other. Then again, this Elantra has over 200K on the clock, so maybe it’s time for the new owners to replace it or sink money into it.

          Buying used always means buying other people’s problems, even if it is deferred to a later date.

        • 0 avatar

          Thats the problem with Korean cars – everything starts to break down as soon as warranty expires.

          • 0 avatar

            If this is true, I would disagree with their component life targets but be impressed at their ability to hit the goals so accurately.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Indeed. It caused me to forego the Elantra Sport—which I really, *really* liked—when I was shopping for compact commuter cars earlier this year.

  • avatar

    Wait a minute now… I thought the Koreans were the NKOTB as far as quality and hitting the mark on what consumers want in a car. You mean buyers want to survive crashes too? Back to the drawing board…

  • avatar

    At least that great warranty will replace the airbags. A long warranty makes a car reliable, right?

    • 0 avatar

      A long warranty generally means that the owner is saved from out-of-pocket expenses for the duration of the warranty, if all maintenance and warranty requirements for that warranty are met.

      In the case of the airbags, federal mandates re passenger safety will force the OEM to replace the airbags even if the car is out of warranty.

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