More than 33 million people in the United States drive cars that have a potentially deadly hazard: airbag inflators that, in rare cases, could burst and spray fragments in a crash. Only a few of them know about it, reported the Associated Press.
Moreover, they are unlikely to discover it anytime soon because of a dispute between federal safety officials and an airbag parts maker.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA ) has ordered the maker, ARC Automotive of Knoxville, Tennessee, to recall 67 million inflators that have the potential to break apart a metal canister and release shrapnel. But ARC is rejecting to do so, possibly setting up a legal fight with the agency.
The NHTSA says that the recall is necessary since ARC’s inflators have killed two people and injured at least seven others in the United States and Canada. The explosions, which started in 2009, are still happening.
After an eight-year observation, the NHTSA provisionally decided that the inflators are defective. According to the records provided by the government, the inflators date from at least the 2002 model year through January 2018, when ARC placed equipment on its production lines to detect possible safety problems.
Marlene Beaudoin, a 40-year-old mother of ten from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was killed after her 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV was struck by metal shards, reported the Associated Press.
What is ARC’s response?
ARC says that there is no safety problem, that the NHTSA’s demand is based on a hypothesis rather than technical evidence, and that the agency does not have the authority to demand a components manufacturer to do recalls, which ARC claims are the responsibility of automakers.
In a letter to the NHTSA, ARC stated that no carmaker has found a problem common to all 67 million inflators, and no root cause of the inflator bursts has been determined.
“ARC believes they resulted from random ‘one-off’ manufacturing irregularities that were properly handled by vehicle manufacturers through lot-specific recalls,” the letter said.
In a statement, NHTSA made it clear that both ARC and automakers are accountable for recalls and that it can pursue a recall from a parts maker that supplies multiple automakers.
The NHTSA will next make a final decision on whether the inflators are defective, followed by a public hearing. It may take ARC to court to get a recall order. The NHTSA will not say when or if any of this will happen.
Meanwhile, owners of cars made by at least a dozen manufacturers — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Hyundai, and Kia — are left to wonder if their vehicles have ARC driver or front passenger inflators. (ARC inflators can be found on both sides of some cars.)
There is no one way for car owners to know whether their inflators are made by ARC because ARC sells inflators that are integrated in the airbags of other manufacturers. Neither the NHTSA, the ARC, nor the manufacturers have issued a complete list of affected vehicles.