The US government wants to recall 67 million airbags. But why?

The equipment manufacturer disagrees and calls the decision not based on an "objective technical or engineering conclusion"
Ameya Paleja
In rare cases, the airbag has claimed lives instead of saving them
In rare cases, the airbag has claimed lives instead of saving them


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has urged for a recall of 67 million airbag inflators in the U.S. following an investigation into safety concerns. The agency hasn't specified names of automakers affected by this recall but General Motors (GM) has already issued a recall of more than a million vehicles.

The NHTSA report cites nine incidents that involved rupturing of airbags which led to injuries or even death of passengers in the car since 2009. Seven of these incidents occurred in the U.S. and led to one death while another fatal incident was reported in Canada. The airbag inflators in these incidents were manufactured by Knoxville-based ARC Automotive.

When an airbag ruptures instead of inflating

In 2021, an airbag inflator in a Chevrolet Traverse in Michigan ruptured shooting metal fragments inside the car and resulting in the death of the driver. Outside of the U.S., a similar incident in a Hyundai Elantra was also killed in 2009 due to a ruptured inflator. “Airbag inflators that project metal fragments into vehicle occupants, rather than properly inflating the attached airbag, create an unreasonable risk of death and injury," the NHTSA said in its letter.

The US government wants to recall 67 million airbags. But why?
An airbag deployed properly after a crash

The NHTSA looked into an 18-year inspection period before January 2018 at the equipment maker ARC, which then supplied the inflator to six airbag makers. Airbags made by these manufacturers were then incorporated into vehicles of 12 automakers, brands which the NHTSA has not specified.

GM's recall of a million vehicles including the 2014-17 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia is in response to the investigation.

ARC, the makers of the inflator, however, disagree with the NHTSA's assessment of the situation, CNN reported. In a letter to the agency, the vice president for product integrity at ARC, Steve Gold said that the company disagreed with the need for a recall of 67 million airbags.

Gold wrote that the request for recall was not based on "any objective technical or engineering conclusion regarding the existence of a defect" and failures were only "occasional or isolated".

Gold added that the company had cooperated with the NHTSA for eight years and even tested 918 inflators pulled out from cars in salvage yards but not were found to have ruptured in tests. With regards to GM's recall, Gold cited the decision as one taken "out of an abundance of caution".

NHTSA disagreed with Gold's argument and has called for a full explanation with "additional analysis of the problem beyond ARC's past presentations", Engadget reported.

NHTSA's similar investigation into Japanese carmaker Takata has led to the recall of millions of vehicles in the U.S. already.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board