Nearly 900 vehicles are being recalled by General Motors (GM) in the U.S. and Canada due to Takata airbag inflators. Why? Because they're apparently exploding and hurling shrapnel if activated in car crashes, according to a document posted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The company stated that the driver's front airbag inflator can explode in a crash due to a manufacturing defect.
Specifically, the recall affects some 2013 models of the Chevrolet Camaro, Chevrolet Sonic, and Chevrolet Volt, along with the Buick Verano. In Canada, some 2013 models of the Chevrolet Trax are also affected.
Manufactured by Takata, the inflators have been under investigation for years with recalls starting in 2014 leading to the largest auto recall in history. Prior to GM's recall, the U.S. portion of the recall had already reached 67 million airbags in more than 40 million vehicles. The exploding airbags sent Takata Corp. of Japan into bankruptcy. The defective inflators have been the cause of 26 deaths in the U.S. since May 2009, 30 deaths worldwide, and around 400 injuries.
Up until now, GM hasn't recalled vehicles with the inflator as its airbags use a desiccant—a moisture-absorbing chemical that you'll commonly find inside new suitcases, purses, bags, etc. According to GM, the problem inflators seem to be limited to a specific lot of inflators from Takata. The agency decided in May 2020 not to recall the inflators with the desiccant but said it would monitor them. Then in 2021, the investigation did open and it covers more than 30 million inflators in over 200 models from 20 car and truck makers, including GM.
The main issue seems to be that the ammonium nitrate used to create small explosions to inflate the airbags in a car crash can deteriorate over time and explode with more force than designed to, blowing apart the metal canister and sending shrapnel flying onto the crash victims.
GM says in documents that it was notified in March that an inflator exploded in a 2013 Camaro in Brazil in May 2022. The company says an analysis of the inflator is still underway, but initial findings indicate the inflator rupture is related to a manufacturing defect and was not caused by deterioration of the ammonium nitrate.
Spokesman Bill Grotz said one person was injured in the Camaro in Brazil, but the company has no other reports of this type of inflator rupturing or hurting anyone else. “GM is taking this field action out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our customers as our highest priority,” Grotz said. He said he couldn’t give details of the manufacturing defect.
Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, said GM and NHTSA are leaving drivers to worry about what airbag inflators their vehicles have and whether they are safe to drive. “It’s kind of absurd that we’re left in the dark about what’s in our vehicles due to confidentiality provisions” granted to automakers, Brooks said.