Piston Slap: A Big Problem With PODS?

piston slap a big problem with pods
David writes:

Sajeev,

Almost every rental car I’ve driven, regardless of make or model, in the last 18 to 24 months, particularly in the Bay Area and especially if the car has 20,000 or more miles, has the passenger detection system for turning the airbag on/off broken. Ford, GM, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, it doesn’t matter. Sedan, SUV, sports car, again it doesn’t matter.

The first time it happened was in a Malibu. I’m driving with an alarm going off and I keep scanning the dashboard for a message or idiot light. Pulled over and checked the doors were all closed and trunk closed. Then I noticed the blinking light for the passenger seat seatbelt not being buckled and that a passenger is detected in the front seat. Nothing was in the seat, not even a piece of paper. After I secured the seatbelt for the invisible passenger the alarm stopped. I had to drive the car that way for the rest of my trip.

This has repeated itself in almost every rental I’ve had since. The most recent frustration was a 2017 Kia Optima I just had, which again required me to drive around with the passenger seatbelt buckled for the invisible passenger.

Does this mean that my personal vehicles will eventually befall the same fate? Is there something that rental car drivers are doing that abuse this system? Does California have a different standard? What gives?

Sajeev answers:

Passenger Occupant Detection Systems ( PODS) ensure airbags deploy with the correct amount of force for the corresponding weight of the airbag’s recipient. I’ve noticed that passengers less than 100 lbs will trigger the “air bag off” warning, with no warning for zero (or heavier than 100 lbs) passengers: while every application tweaks the parameters, that’s the gist of it.

And then all the recalls found me: Audi, Chevy, Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Hyundai, KIA, even Saturn and Roush!

Known causes were liquid spillage and wiring harnesses physically failing from passenger seat use. And maybe, possibly, here’s another reason to stop stabbing your knee into the stupid seat cushion when grabbing something in the back seat? Look at the size of the PODS bladder in the above photo!

But all that’s in the past, so your (seemingly random) sampling of rental vehicles suggests another round of recalls is needed! I suspect there’s more “passenger seat turnover” in Bay Area rental cars than less congested parts of the country. Perhaps any Uber likely to hold more than 2 customers at a time is also affected?

I doubt this is a problem with the magnitude of Takata airbag recalls, as only vehicles with poorly designed wiring/routing, precisely-spilled beverages and/or a rental car amounts of “passenger seat turnover” are likely susceptible. What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Hyundai]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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  • NeilM NeilM on Apr 13, 2019

    PODS Bladder sounds like yet another personal issue to worry about as we age.

  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 13, 2019

    Odd - I have rented more than 100 cars in the past three years and never had this issue. Very weird. What rental company?

    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Apr 13, 2019

      AHA! You may have asked the right question. Since there ere several makes mentioned, it can't be a common problem with all of them - unless it's one rental company, possibly one specific location, that uses trained monkeys for maintenance, instead of the usual Bachelor of Arts holders.

  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.
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