NHTSA investigating nearly 750,000 GM models over non-deploying airbags

Ronan Glon
·3-min read


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Nearly 750,000 vehicles built by Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac are the subject of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation due to non-deploying driver-side airbags. While the investigation is ongoing, the agency believes the issue is likely due to rust particles that form on the inflator's connection terminal interface.

The list of nameplates included in the investigation includes Chevrolet's Silverado, Tahoe, and Suburban, GMC's Sierra, Yukon, and Yukon XL, plus Cadillac's Escalade, Escalade ESV, CT4, CT5, and XT4. All of the potentially affected vehicles are 2020 or 2021 models, according to a bulletin published on the NHTSA's website.

Investigators launched the probe in April 2021 after 15 consumers reported airbag-related issues, including nine who said an airbag malfunction light appeared in the instrument cluster. More alarmingly, the NHTSA is aware of six accidents that caused significant damage to the car's front end yet didn't trigger the driver's airbag. It adds that there are no fatalities linked to the issue, but there are six crashes and eight injuries reportedly blamed on it. No evidence suggests this problem is related to the millions of potentially deadly Takata inflators recalled over the past few years.

General Motors is aware of the defect. It sent a technical service bulletin (TSB) to its dealers in March 2021 to address the aforementioned warning light. The note explains the issue is due to "rust particles in the connection terminal interface of the driver's airbag inflator." The company hasn't issued a safety recall yet, however.

Whether it will partially depends on the NHTSA's findings. It's currently looking into the scope and the severity of the problem, and it wants to understand its implications on driver safety. Investigators will decide whether General Motors needs to recall the 749,312 cars that are part of the probe when they close their investigation.

General Motors has already spent a significant amount of money replacing defective airbag-related parts in its cars. In November 2020, it was ordered by the American government to recall nearly 6 million pickup trucks and SUVs equipped with potentially dangerous Takata airbag inflators. It repeatedly argued that testing proved the inflators were safe, and it petitioned the agency four times starting in 2016 to avoid a recall, which cost an estimated $1.2 billion (about a third of its net income in 2020). It ultimately announced it wouldn't fight the decision.

Chevrolet models affected by the 2020 recall included the Silverado, the Suburban, the Tahoe, and the Avalanche built between the 2007 and 2014 model years. Cadillac's Escalade and GMC's Yukon were included, too.

Takata's inflators (which can explode and spray the front passengers with shrapnel) are responsible for the largest series of recalls in American history. Over 67 million inflators have been recalled by 19 carmakers as of January 2021, and the airbags have caused the death of at least 27 people globally, including 18 in the United States.

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