Kia Motors America is recalling nearly 73,000 Rio (REE-Oh) small cars to fix an air bag problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that the recall affects cars from the 2006 to 2008 model years. A sensor mat inside the front passenger seat can crack and fail to detect whether a child is sitting in the seat. This means the air bag could inflate in a crash and injure the child. Cars are designed so air bags don’t inflate if a child is in the front passenger seat. Kia says in the documents that it doesn’t know of any injuries stemming from the problem. The cars were built between Feb. 20, 2005 and Dec. 9, 2007. Kia will replace the sensor for free starting in July.
Over time, with repeated flexing as the seat is used, Kia said the printed circuit board might fail, which could allow the air bag to deploy in a crash, possibly injuring the child. Last August, NHTSA informed Kia it noticed a “high repair trend” for the Rio and wanted to know whether there was a safety problem.
Kia has experienced other problems with malfunctioning seat sensors. Last September, the automaker agreed to recall about 10,600 of its 2007-8 Sorento crossovers because their seat sensors could malfunction when an adult was seated there. In that case the passenger air bag may not deploy in a crash. That recall came about two years after the agency began its investigation. Kia initially resisted the recall, claiming the problem was attributable to adult passengers not being centered on the seat cushion.
NHTSA disagreed, and in an unusual move, convened a defect panel review, a meeting of safety officials, that ultimately resulted in a vote to send Kia a letter formally requesting a recall. At that point Kia said it would recall the vehicles to avoid “a protracted dispute.” Kia described the Rio recall as voluntary, but once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it is legally required to inform NHTSA within five business days of its plan for a recall.
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