The U.S. auto safety agency announced an urgent recall of 2.1 million cars and SUVs on Saturday for air bags that could deploy accidentally — a problem that had already been the source of a previous recall which the agency said failed to fix the issue, leaving owners at risk.
In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said about 1.2 million of those vehicles affected were also under separate recalls for Takata air bags that could rupture and send metal shards flying at passengers. The agency urged all owners to get the first, incomplete recall repair done immediately, even though it has only been about 85 percent effective at stopping the problem so far.
“This is unfortunately a complicated issue for consumers, who may have to return to their dealer more than once,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “But this is an urgent safety issue, and all consumers with vehicles covered by the previous recalls should have that remedy installed."
The new recall covers:
— 2002-03 Jeep Liberty, 2002-04 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2003-04 Dodge Vipers (753,156 vehicles affected)
— 2003-2004 Honda Odysseys and 2003 Acura MDXs (374,177 vehicles)
— 2003-2004 Pontiac Vibes, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrixes and Toyota Avalons (1,006,849 vehicles)
The problem stems from a faulty electronic controller manufactured by TRW that can set the air bag off randomly. The previous repair in recalls over the past two years involved adding extra shielding to components; the new fix requires replacing the entire TRW control unit. NHTSA says since the prior TRW recalls began, it has 39 reports of repaired vehicles with air bags that deployed inadvertently.
NHTSA said of the 400-some cases in total its found of the air bags going off accidentally, nine involved Takata air bags that ruptured. Of those, three led to minor injuries, but none were in vehicles that have had the previous recall repair done. Due to the number of vehicles involved, and the problems in getting replacement air bags for the Takata problem, NHTSA says it could take until the end of 2015 to fix all vehicles covered.
"While it's not completely effective, there is a benefit to having that remedy," said Rosekind. "We don’t want people to think that’s the only thing to do."
Owners of the affected vehicles were asked to check their VIN tag at this link to see if their car or SUV was covered by the new action. NHTSA warned that owners should not disable their air bags instead of getting the fix.
The auto industry had already been struggling to get a handle on the Takata air bag flaw, now linked to five deaths and some 60 injuries in the United States, including a Texas man who died on Jan. 18 in his 2002 Honda Accord. Some 10 automakers have issued recalls for the Takata bags, but have given conflicting advice over what owners should do until replacement parts become available. The problem has also raised calls in Congress for requiring used vehicles to have all open recall repairs made before they can be sold again.