DETROIT/WASHINGTON – A fresh problem has developed with automotive air bags, and this one will bring recalls of up to 5 million vehicles worldwide.
Continental Automotive Systems says in documents filed with the U.S. government that moisture can get inside its air bag control computers, causing the power supplies to corrode and fail. If that happens, air bags may not inflate in a crash or they could deploy without a crash.
The documents, posted Thursday on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, say Continental will notify automakers, who will recall cars dating as far back as 2006.
Already Honda, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Mercedes have issued recalls, and some unidentified Kia, Mazda and Volvo Truck vehicles are included. Continental says less than 2 million of the affected vehicles are in the U.S.
Automakers will replace the computers at no cost to owners, according to documents.
The announcement comes in the middle of a crisis involving Takata Corp. air bag inflators. About 24 million U.S. vehicles are being recalled for that problem, which is the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. Takata’s inflators can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and sending shrapnel into the passenger compartment. At least 11 people have died worldwide from the problem, with 139 injured.
In the documents, Continental says its problem first surfaced in January of 2008 when it analyzed a malfunctioning control unit that was removed from a Mercedes. The company continued to investigate, and in early 2011, Continental was told of two inadvertent air bag deployments, in Mercedes and Fiat Chrysler vehicles.
Last year, Honda reported two malfunctions in crashes involving 2008 Accords, and U.S. safety regulators began investigating, according to the documents.
Continental said it knows of more than 600 parts that were returned due to the problem.
On Wednesday night, Honda said it would recall 364,787 2008 to 2010 Accord sedans worldwide because of the issue. The company says the air bags may not inflate in a crash. Honda said it has two reports of people being hurt because the air bags didn’t deploy.
On Thursday, Fiat Chrysler announced the recall of 112,000 2009 Dodge Journeys and 2008 and 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans for the same problem. The Fiat Chrysler recall also includes the 2009 Volkswagen Routan minivan, which was made by FCA.
Last year, Mercedes recalled 126,260 C-Class cars from 2008 and 2009 and 2010 GLK350 vehicles.
The U.S. safety investigation began in August after NHTSA found 19 complaints from drivers that air bags didn’t inflate in crashes of older Honda Accords.
A driver in Belleview, Florida, was injured when his car hit a concrete wall at 50 miles per hour and the air bags didn’t inflate, according to one complaint. Several others said the computer had to be replaced and they were charged around $500.
“This also means that the safety of the vehicle passengers and operators are in jeopardy and potentially face serious injury or death,” another complainant wrote. People filing complaints are not identified in the NHTSA database.
Continental says any malfunction will cause the air bag control computer to shut down, and that will trigger a dashboard warning light.
Honda said it would notify owners about the problem, but repair parts won’t be available until fall. Drivers with an activated supplemental restraint system light should visit a dealer for a repair from the parts on hand, the company said.
Honda meanwhile said it is expanding its recall in North America of late-model vehicles equipped with potentially defective Takata air bags, adding 2.23 million vehicles.
The Japanese automaker said certain Acura and Honda vehicles from model years 2005-2016 are being recalled to replace Takata PSDI-5 driver-side inflators.
It recalled another 269,000 similar models in Canada on Monday for the same issue.
Takata Corp. told U.S. safety regulators two weeks ago that about 3.9 million PSDI-5 inflators sold to several different vehicle manufacturers could rupture and kill, or cause serious injury to vehicle occupants. Honda’s latest recall is included in that count.
The company said on Wednesday no PSDI-5 ruptures had been reported in its vehicles.
Honda also said it was recalling 341,000 Accords due to a separate issue affecting the electronic control unit used in supplemental restraint systems in 2008 to 2010 models, which could result in air bags failing to deploy.
In addition, Honda’s U.S. unit confirmed it had instructed U.S. dealers to stop selling some of its new model Civics equipped with 2.0 liter base engines. The Accord and Civic are Honda’s best-selling models in the United States, placed at fifth and sixth, respectively, in sales in 2015.
Honda declined comment on U.S. media reports that the order and a related recall notice were issued for around 34,000 new Civics, which have been selling briskly since U.S. sales began in November, due to a manufacturing issue which may cause engine damage or failure.
Defective Takata inflators have been linked to nine U.S. deaths since 2004, all but one of them in older Honda vehicles.
Honda previously has recalled more than 6 million U.S. vehicles since 2008 to replace defective Takata inflators.
Honda said the PSDI-5 inflators will be replaced, beginning this summer, with parts from another supplier.
Its latest action indicates the continuing Takata recalls may not be over.
On Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey urged NHTSA to recall all cars with Takata inflators. The senators estimated that 24 million such vehicles remained on U.S. roads.
On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said “the never-ending flow of piecemeal recall announcements” on Takata air bags “needs to end.”
Asked about a broader recall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters on Tuesday that NHTSA’s investigation “has not been closed. There is still ongoing work. … We will continue to take action as we deem appropriate.”
Through December, NHTSA had recalled 23 million potentially defective Takata inflators in about 19 million vehicles. Two weeks ago, Takata agreed to seek the recall of a further 5.1 million driver-side inflators, including the PSDI-5 types plus 1.2 million SDI driver-side inflators.