Volvo plans to recall 460,000 cars over potentially deadly airbag safety issue

Photo (c) huettenhoelscher - Getty Images

The problem is similar to Takata’s exploding airbag inflator

Volvo is recalling more than 460,000 cars -- 259,000 of them sold in the U.S. -- because of a potentially lethal airbag issue. The Swedish carmaker said it is aware of at least one fatality.

The issue is similar to the problem with Takata airbags that prompted the largest auto recall in history over the last decade. Upon airbag deployment, the inflator can rupture and spray metal fragments throughout the interior of the car.

As with the Takata airbag recalls, the Volvo issue is limited to older models. The recalled vehicles include the 2001-2006 S80 and 2001-2009 S60. The vehicles were produced between May 2000, and March 2009.

Volvo has told the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that the problem occurs when the vehicle is in a crash and the airbag deploys. In some cases, it says the deployment of the airbag causes the inflator to rupture.

“In the event of a crash where the driver airbag is activated, fragments of the inflator inside the airbag may, in certain cases, project out and in worst case strike you, potentially resulting in serious injury or death,” Volvo said in a statement.

The company said moisture may seep into the inflator over time and degrade the inflator propellant tablets. If they start to decompose and form dust particles, it can increase the pressure inside the inflator when the bag deploys. The pressure can essentially cause the inflator to explode.

Similarity to Takata inflators

Very similar conditions caused the problem with Takata airbags in older vehicles. Exploding Takata airbag inflators have killed at least 28 people worldwide and at least 19 people in the U.S., while causing dozens of injuries.

Takata declared bankruptcy in 2018 and set up a fund that has paid out millions of dollars to victims. As recently as May, the fund paid another $46 million to victims and their families.

The recalls, which took place over a number of years, involved several different automakers, with Honda being among the largest customers. Earlier this year, General Motors (GM) filed recall documents with the NHTSA in response to the agency’s petition that it recall vehicles with airbag inflators that could explode. 

According to Volvo, the airbag inflators subject to its recall were supplied by Sweden-based AutoLiv and German auto supplier ZF.

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