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NHTSA Investigating ARC Air Bag Inflators

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Air bag manufacturer Takata has been under investigation for over a year now because of defects with their inflators that have resulted in serious injuries and deaths. Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened up a new investigation into air bag company ARC, to see if their products may also have safety defects.

The NHTSA has been criticized in the past for failing to open timely investigations into safety issues. They allowed the GM ignition switch defect, for instance, to go on for about a decade without taking any serious action to get unsafe vehicles repaired. After a scathing audit, the results of which were just revealed at the end of June 2015, the NHTSA is trying to be more proactive in its duties to keep the public safe.

NHTSA Investigates ARC Air Bags

According to the investigation documents, the NHTSA notes a potential problem in ARC Automotive air bags that may be similar to those seen with Takata air bags. Takata’s inflators have sometimes exploded upon deployment, sending small, sharp pieces of metal and plastic into the interior of the vehicle, where they could severely injure and even kill occupants. So far, eight deaths and over 100 injuries have been associated with these types of Takata air bag explosions.

Now, the NHTSA is looking to ARC air bags to see if they may be vulnerable to the same problems. They are basing their investigation on two reports of serious injuries:

• Chrysler: In 2009, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) received a report that a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan had been involved in an incident in which the air bag inflator ruptured. The incident occurred in Ohio and involved an air bag inflator made by ARC.
• Kia: In 2015, the ODI learned of a lawsuit alleging driver side inflator rupture in a MY 2004 Kia Optima. This incident occurred in New Mexico in 2014. Again, the vehicle had an air bag inflator made by ARC.

Air Bag Contained Questionable Propellant

Of interest is the fact that these ARC air bag inflators contained an ammonium-nitrate-based propellant. This chemical has come under question in the Takata air bag discussions, particularly in relation to finding a cause for the explosions.

Takata has revealed that internal company tests indicated that age, manufacturing defects, and high humidity and temperature were all factors in causing their air bags to explode. According to a November 2014 report in the New York Times, Takata switched from a reliable and effective compound for inflating air bags in 2001, moving to the cheaper and less stable ammonium nitrate.

Two former engineers at Takata revealed that they were concerned about this chemical and the possibility that it could cause explosions under the right conditions, particularly variations in temperature. Fiat Chrysler has stated that they will no longer use Takata air bags because they are using ammonium nitrate, and Congress continues to push the company to adequately demonstrate the chemical’s safety.

NHTSA Investigating ARC Air Bags

The NHTSA notes that so far, they don’t know if there is a common cause for the air bag inflator explosions in the two incidents mentioned above. They are planning to collect all known facts and review the data to determine whether there may be another pattern at work, here.