Faulty air bag electronics spark additional recalls

Two million Jeeps, Hondas, and Toyotas at risk

Last updated: February 03, 2015 08:15 AM

More than two million vehicles previously recalled for an electrical problem that can cause their air bags to deploy spontaneously will be recalled again, because the remedy applied the first time has turned out not to work reliably.

Recalled vehicles include:

  • 2003 Acura MDX
  • 2003-2004 Dodge Viper
  • 2002-2003 Jeep Liberty
  • 2002-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • 2004-2004 Honda Odyssey
  • 2003-2004 Pontiac Vibe
  • 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla
  • 2003-2004 Toyota Matrix
  • 2003-2004 Toyota Avalon

At issue is an electronic air-bag control module made by TRW, a major parts supplier to many automakers. That module is subject to electrical interference from other components in the car that can cause it to trigger one or more air bags spontaneously, without a crash.

Earlier recalls, conducted between 2012 and 2014, tried to address the problem by installing an electrical-noise filter to shield the module. However, some vehicles that had that repair subsequently experienced inadvertent air bag deployments, prompting this latest campaign. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it had identified about 40 vehicles in which air bags had deployed spontaneously after getting the partial fix. The new repair will replace the whole module.

There’s one problem, though: Those modules are in short supply and TRW may not be able to completely fill the order until late this year. NHTSA has taken the highly unusual step of telling owners who never had the partial fix from the earlier recalls to go ahead and have it done now. And then to take their vehicles back to the dealer later on when the more effective parts become available. The partial fix may not be perfect, NHTSA indicated, but it’s better than nothing.

Some cars have two separate air-bag defects

The agency disclosed that about a million of the recalled Hondas and Toyotas also have Takata-made air bag inflators that risk rupturing and sending metal shards into the passenger compartment. NHTSA had compiled some 400 complaints of unintended air bag deployments, among which a Takata inflator had caused one serious injury. But other Takata air bag deployments have done more harm, leading to a massive 10-automaker recall last year following several smaller recalls to replace Takata air-bag inflators in prior years. (Learn more about the Takata recalls.)

On January 18, the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord became the fifth person in the United States thought to have been killed by an exploding air bag inflator in a minor two-car collision in Spring, Texas. Although that Accord had been recalled to replace its driver-side air-bag inflator in 2011, the recall work was never done, Honda has acknowledged. The driver who was killed had bought the car used less than a year ago and may never have received the recall notice.

Consumer Reports urges all car owners to respond right away to safety-defect recalls. Whether you are the car’s original owner or bought it used, you can find out if recall work is due by contacting any franchised dealer for your brand; visiting the brand’s owner website; or by visiting NHTSA’s web site, Safercar.gov. A tool on the Safercar home page lets you plug in your car’s VIN number and quickly see if any recall work has not been completed. You can also search for recalls at ConsumerReports.org/carrecalls.

Gordon Hard 

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