NHTSA: 12 Million Cars on US Roads Have Airbags That May Not Deploy

The issue spans across ten automakers, including Honda/Acura, Toyota, FCA, Hyundai/Kia, and Mitsubishi—and there are eight related deaths.

2015 Getty Images

Up to 12.3 million cars across 10 brands have airbags that may not deploy in the event of a crash, says an ongoing investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. At risk are cars made since 2009 by Acura, Dodge, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mitsubishi, Ram, and Toyota, the suspected issue lies with an airbag control unit that's apparently at risk of becoming damaged or disabled by "stray electrical signals," reports Car and Driver. A total of eight traffic deaths are potentially related.

The investigation was spurred on by a death resulting from a crash involving two Toyotas whose airbags did not deploy. The 2018 and 2019 model year Toyotas used an airbag control unit manufactured by ZF-TRW. The component had already been the subject of a previous NHTSA probe prompted by six crashes in which the airbags in Hyundai and Kia cars didn't deploy either, resulting in four deaths and six injuries. The two Korean automakers have since collectively recalled over a million cars over dysfunctional airbags. 

Before that, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles over an identical issue after three deaths and five injuries.

Reportedly, stray electrical signals can cause "electrical overstress" if it enters wiring in between the ZF-TRW system's crash sensors and airbag control unit. This would potentially cause the frontal airbags, side airbags, and seatbelt pretensioners to fail. Notably, NHTSA says the million or so cars Hyundai and Kia recalled happened to have the "lowest levels of circuit protection" while other, unaffected models on Hyundai and Kia's lineups had "higher levels of protection."

To be clear, this investigation is unrelated to Takata's airbag fiasco in which airbags are going off and sending shrapnel into people's faces.

The parts supplier at the center of the new airbag problem, ZF, says it is cooperating with NHTSA and came forward once it noticed something amiss. In a statement to CNN, "ZF proactively notified NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers following initial observations of electrical overstress damage to airbag control units in certain vehicles in the field and has worked diligently with them since it was first discovered to understand this complex issue. ZF continues to cooperate with NHTSA and our customers in the investigation."

From C/D, here's the full laundry list of affected cars:

Acura

2012–2014 TSX, TSX Sport Wagon, and TL; 2015–2017 TLX; 2014–2019 RLX

Dodge

2010–2011 Nitro

Fiat

2012–2019 500

Honda

2012–2014 Ridgeline; 2012–2015 Civic; 2012–2016 CR-V; 2012–2017 Fit and 2013–2014 Fit EV; 2013–2015 Accord and 2014–2014 Accord Hybrid

Hyundai

2013–2019 Sonata

Jeep

2010–2012 Liberty; 2010–2018 Wrangler; 2015–2017 Compass and Patriot

Kia

2012–2016 Optima Hybrid; 2013 Forte and Forte Koup; 2013–2019 Optima; 2014 Sedona

Mitsubishi

2013 Outlander; 2013–2017 Lancer (Evolution included)

Ram

2009–2012 Ram 1500; 2010–2012 Ram 2500 and 3500; 2011–2012 Ram 4500 and 5500

Toyota

2011–2013 Corolla Matrix; 2011–2019 Corolla; 2012–2017 Sequoia and Tundra; 2012–2018 Avalon; 2012–2019 Tacoma