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Massive Airbag Recall in the Works Affecting Tens of Millions

Posted on February 7, 2024 in Car Accidents

ARC Automotive, Inc. and Delphi Automotive Systems are currently facing a recall of around 52 million airbag inflators for motor vehicle safety defects. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced its initial decision to recall the airbags on September 5, 2023, after an eight-year investigation.

If you or a loved one has been injured by an airbag with a defective ARC inflator, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Discuss a potential lawsuit with the product liability attorneys at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP, during a free consultation. 

NHTSA Aims to Recall 52 Million ARC Airbag Inflators 

In July 2015, the NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation opened a case into airbag inflators designed by ARC Automotive, Inc. after learning of two driver airbag inflator field ruptures. In the years following, the NHTSA’s investigation expanded as it discovered additional airbag inflators rupturing during testing, including incidents where metal fragments were propelled forcefully into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. 

In April 2023, the NHTSA demanded a recall of 41 million ARC frontal hybrid, toroidal driver and passenger inflators and 11 million driver hybrid, toroidal inflators manufactured by Delphi under a licensing agreement with ARC. The NHTSA’s push for a recall was met with resistance by Original Equipment Manufacturers and suppliers, including General Motors, Toyota, Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz.

The NHTSA issued an initial decision in September 2023 that the inflators should be recalled, stating that the ARC airbag defect is linked so far to two deaths and seven injuries. If the recall takes place, it would be the second-largest of its kind in U.S. history, behind the Takata airbag recall in 2019. The Takata recall affected approximately 67 million airbags that could explode when deployed.

Details of the ARC Automotive Airbag Defect

The NHTSA’s recall request letter to ARC Automotive, Inc. stated that the agency has “tentatively concluded that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists in the frontal driver and passenger airbag inflators under investigation that were produced before installation of borescopes on all toroidal inflator manufacturing lines in January 2018.”

In January 2018, ARC changed its airbag production process to correct an issue that existed in previous versions of the product (dating back to 2000). The NHTSA summarized the problem as weld slag, or debris produced by the welding process, that could block the nozzle and prevent gases from being properly vented out. These gases could build up and burst the inflator capsule, causing the airbag to explode.

The NHTSA is arguing for a recall of all airbag inflators created by ARC and Delphi prior to the correction that occurred in 2018. The information gathered during the NHTSA’s investigation found that the defective airbag inflators are behind explosions that first began in 2009. So far, exploding ARC airbag incidents have occurred in a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan, a 2004 Kia Optima, a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, two 2015 Chevrolet Traverses, a 2016 Audi A3 and a 2017 Chevrolet Traverse.

Common Types of Airbag Defects

While exploding parts seem to be a common theme in airbag recalls, this is far from the only recognized type of airbag defect. Vehicle airbags can contain numerous design, manufacturing and marketing defects that make them unreasonably dangerous for consumers and unfit for use in motor vehicles.

Examples include: 

  • Delayed airbag deployment
  • Nondeployment in a collision
  • Incomplete airbag inflation
  • Gas leaks or blockages 
  • Deploying with excessive force
  • Inadvertent or unexpected deployment
  • Sensor malfunctions
  • Untethered airbags
  • Faulty airbag system wiring

ARC continues to maintain that no safety defect exists with its airbag inflators. The company refused to issue a recall in response to the NHTSA’s demand letter, which led to a public meeting on October 5, 2023, where ARC had the opportunity to defend itself. Since then, the NHTSA has not yet announced if or when it will issue a final recall order.

What Causes Airbag Defects?

Defective airbags often exist due to negligence by a manufacturing company, such as the failure to adhere to all required safety rules and regulations during design, assembly and marketing processes. 

If a manufacturer cuts corners or falls short of the required safety standards, the following issues can occur:

  • Design or manufacturing flaws
  • Structural airbag weaknesses that affect performance
  • Defective parts that do not perform as intended
  • Insufficient testing of airbags prior to their release
  • Issues that cause airbags to explode and propel shrapnel

 Airbag part manufacturers have a legal responsibility to properly design, produce, test and distribute their products in accordance with applicable safety laws. Any lapse in care during these processes can lead to undiscovered defects that only become apparent after it is too late and faulty airbags are already in widespread use.

Lawsuits for Defective ARC Airbag Injuries

Private lawsuits and class actions are already being filed on behalf of those affected by defective ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive Systems airbags. Claims are being brought by individuals who have purchased or leased one or more defective vehicles that contain airbag inflators manufactured by ARC. Even without an official recall by the NHTSA, enough evidence is available to allow consumers to take legal action for defective ARC airbag inflators.

The document released by the NHTSA listed 12 vehicle manufacturers that could be included should an ARC airbag recall occur. They are BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen. If you own or lease a motor vehicle that contains an airbag with an inflator manufactured by ARC or Delphi, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

Although the NHTSA has estimated that the risk of an ARC airbag inflator rupturing is approximately 1 in 370,000 airbag deployments, systemic defects have been detected across 52 million inflators. This makes it important for consumers to take the matter seriously and understand their legal rights should a harmful airbag explosion occur in a motor vehicle accident.

Learn More About the Pending ARC Airbag Recall | Consult With an Attorney

If you believe you have grounds to initiate a lawsuit or join a class action for a defective ARC airbag inflator in California, request a free case consultation with an attorney at Rose, Klein & Marias LLP. Our product liability lawyer can review your case and help you determine if it has merit. If so, we may offer to represent you when going up against major automobile and automotive part manufacturers. Call us at (866) 696-2290.