Nearly six years ago, according to documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mazda got its first report of the steering wheel Mazda logo fragmenting after airbag deployment, and hitting someone in the face. Mazda looked into the matter, and decided that there was a problem with the material used to make the logo, but that it didn’t pose a significant safety risk. Then more reports of people getting hit in the face started coming in.
Mazda received ten reports of such incidents from September 2015 through August 2019, according to the documents and also was sued twice in the U.S. over the issue, according to the documents. It said it was choosing to act now, in the form of a recall for 260,915 2004-2007 Mazda 3s, “out of an abundance of caution” and after, a Mazda spokesperson said, that it had gotten a report of a “serious” case in March 2019.
In September 2015, we received market information regarding an injury caused by the fragments from the steering wheel emblem when the driver’s air bag was deployed. We conducted an investigation and decided to carefully monitor the market as it was not a serious injury. So, we have been carefully monitoring the market.
Later in March 2019, we received report of a serious case, which initiated a re-investigation of the issue and concluded that, despite the extremely low chances of the failure occurring, in the unlikely event that they might, it was best to start preparations for putting measures in place for the field action in order to prevent the similar accidents from reoccurring. Now that we are in the position to perform a field action, we decided to implement a recall for the affected vehicles.
The NHTSA documents show what happened in between those incidents, and include details about the original investigation. The anatomy of a recall (emphasis mine):
December, 2015 through February, 2016: The part supplier and Mazda started to investigate the root cause. Hydrolysis was confirmed to occur on the broken logo which was made of polyurethane. The hydrolysis was hypothesized to accelerate deterioration of the logo and reduce its strength.
February, 2016: As a result of high heat and humidity durability test, the molar weight of the logo was found to be reduced, which indicated the hydrolysis was duplicated in the polyurethane sample.
March, 2016: It was found that the supplier made a change to the material of the logo, from polyurethane to polyester in June, 2006. This material change was intended to improve the logo appearance. As a result of later investigation, the hydrolysis was confirmed to not occur on logo made of polyester. This material change was also found to incidentally be a corrective measure for subsequently produced vehicles.
April, 2016: Mazda found that the logos for other vehicle models were not made of polyurethane, which may be subject to hydrolysis. Accordingly, there is no possibility for this defect to occur on other vehicle models.
January, 2017: Mazda determined at this time that the projected fragments could only cause superficial damage or injury and the safety risk was low because the plastic fragments are very light in mass. Up to this time, considering the occurrence rate of collisions necessitating air bag deployments in the field, Mazda had estimated the occurrence rate of this defect in the field would be low.
February, 2017: Mazda judged that the degree of injury caused by this concern was equivalent to the type of injury that can occur during a normal air bag deployment in a crash. Accordingly, Mazda decided to monitor any field occurrences.
After that, nine more incidents piled up, with the last one, reported in August 2019, a month after which Mazda said that “sufficient information and part analysis was still unavailable.”
Two months after that, in November 2019, Mazda said it began preparing a replacement part. Finally, in June of this year, Mazda said that it became, “concerned about a possible increase in injury cases caused by this defect,” and opted to do the recall.
According to the recall report, dealers will replace the emblem cover at no charge and owners will be notified by August 28. Get your recalls done!