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U.S. moves to recall 52 million airbag inflators, citing dangerous ruptures

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued an Initial Decision on Tuesday to recall about 52 million airbag inflators, used by a dozen automakers, over the risk of rupture and flying metal debris. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued an Initial Decision on Tuesday to recall about 52 million airbag inflators, used by a dozen automakers, over the risk of rupture and flying metal debris. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 6 (UPI) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is accelerating its move to recall about 52 million airbag inflators, used by a dozen automakers, over the risk of rupture and flying metal debris.

The NHTSA blamed the airbags, manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive Systems through January 2018, for one death and seven injuries in the United States as the auto safety regulatory agency issued an Initial Decision on Tuesday and scheduled a public meeting in Washington, D.C., for Oct. 5.

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"These airbag inflators may rupture when the vehicle's airbag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. A rupturing airbag inflator poses unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants," the NHTSA wrote in a statement.

"An airbag inflator that fails by rupture not only does it not perform its job as a safety device, but instead actively threatens injury or death, even in a crash where the vehicle occupants would otherwise have been unharmed," the agency added.

In May, ARC refused to recall 67 million inflators following a request from the NHTSA, saying the agency's findings did not support a large-scale recall.

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ARC and Delphi have not commented on Tuesday's decision, which comes several years after the NHTSA recalled up to 70 million defective airbags made by Japanese supplier Takata. Those airbags were determined to explode violently due to a propellant that broke down over time in humidity.

The ARC and Delphi airbags, which were produced in China, Mexico and Knoxville, Tenn., have been used since 2018 by a dozen automakers including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Stellantis, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen.

At issue is a weld slag in the manufacturing process of the airbags.

"Should weld slag of a sufficient size become dislodged, it can cause a blockage of the inflator exit orifice when the airbag deploys," the agency explained. "A blockage of sufficient size will cause an over pressurization and rupture of the inflator, leading to the potential forced propulsion of shrapnel or metal fragments from the inflator into the passenger compartment."

The NHTSA documented the seven cases in the United States where ARC Automotive and Delphi airbags ruptured, resulting in serious injuries to drivers and passengers, as well as an eighth case that resulted in a death.

The agency also said it is aware of two other airbag ruptures, including one in Canada where the driver was killed and one in Turkey where no one was injured.

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The NHTSA warned Tuesday that if these airbags are not replaced, far more "inflator ruptures are expected to occur in the future, risking more serious injuries and deaths."

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