Volvo acknowledged recently that it is recalling nearly half-a-million cars because of possible airbag failures. Volvo said in a document filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it is aware of one “rupture incident” that “resulted in a fatality.”
I should clarify that these are not Takata airbags, but airbags made by the German supplier ZF. Worldwide, Volvo is recalling 460,769 cars, which includes 259,383 in the U.S. And Volvo did not give more details about the fatality, but here’s Volvo’s description of the situation from the NHTSA document:
Volvo has identified, if the air bag inflator propellant tablets are subjected to elevated moisture levels and frequent high inflator temperatures, the tablets can start to decay and form dust particles. This localization of moisture leads to volumetric changes of the tablets surface creating dust over time. Dust increases burn surface area and thereby burn rate. Higher burn rate can result in higher combustion chamber pressure and risk of inflator rupture. This condition could render the driver to be struck by fragments of metal from the inflator. Total of 259,383 vehicles.
Deviation has been identified through component testing at the inflator manufacturer (ZF) and analysis of field return parts investigated together with the inflator manufacturer (ZF) and NHTSA. Volvo Cars investigations have identified an issue regarding the driver air bag. In the event of a crash where the driver airbag is activated, fragments of the inflator inside the air bag may, in certain cases, project out and in worst case strike you, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.
The models involved are 2001-2009 S60s and 2001-2006 S80s. Further, Volvo said that cars frequently exposed to hot and humid temperatures are most at risk, with the remedy for all the cars that need it being free installation of a new driver airbag. Volvo will notify affected owners in late November, according to the NHTSA document.
I’m always a little surprised how long it takes to get a recall issued, though at this point I shouldn’t be. Here’s the chronology of this one:
6.18.2019 VCUSA legal received Attorney letter for alleged rupture (Hudson); 8.28.2019 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint Hudson Vehicle Inspection;
9.10.2019 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
9.20.2019 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
9.26.2019 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
10.25.2019 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
01.23.2020 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
03.26.2020 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
6.4.2020 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
8.27.2020 Volvo/ZF/NHTSA joint technical meeting;
09.24.2021 Condition considered as critical by Critical Concern Management Team;
9.29.2021 Field action decision confirmed by Volvo Car Corporation;
9.30.2021 Implementation Date.
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