The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating air bag inflators made by ARC Automotive Inc. that went into about 420,000 older Fiat Chrysler Town and Country minivans and another 70,000 Kia Optima midsize sedans. The probe, revealed in documents posted July 14 by NHTSA, comes just weeks after Takata agreed to recall 33.8 million inflators in the U.S. in the largest automotive recall in American history. As has been widely reported, at least eight people have been killed worldwide by flying shrapnel from Takata inflators, and more than 100 injured.
NHTSA received a complaint in December about a 2009 incident in a 2002 Chrysler minivan, but determined it was an isolated case involving an ARC driver’s side inflator. Then in June, Kia told the agency about a lawsuit involving a 2004 Optima in New Mexico with an ARC inflator, so NHTSA decided to open an investigation. Both cases are the only known incidents involving ARC inflators in vehicles made by either automaker.
NHTSA said one person was hurt in each of the incidents and an investigation was opened to determine if there is any connection. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind confirmed this to reporters in Orlando, Fla., on July 14. Rosekind said a probable cause in the Chrysler case was identified, but that investigators don’t know the cause of the Kia rupture. If the investigation determines that the inflators are a hazard, Rosekind said NHTSA will seek a recall.
The investigation by NHTSA also will determine how many of the suspect ARC inflators are on the road. Fiat Chrysler, Kia and ARC, which is based in Knoxville, Tenn., said in statements that they are cooperating in the probe. Fiat Chrysler said it no longer uses the inflators that are being investigated. ARC says it makes inflators that are used by other companies in air bag systems. The inflators use an inert gas to fill the air bag, which is supplemented by an ammonium nitrate propellant.
A preliminary analysis of the Chrysler minivan system showed that the path for the inflator gas to exit the inflator may have been blocked by an unknown object, according to NHTSA. In the Takata cases, ammonium nitrate is the main propellant, and it can become unstable over time when exposed to high humidity and temperatures. The chemical can burn too fast and blow apart a metal inflator canister. Automakers, NHTSA and Takata are trying to find the exact cause.
The Chrysler incident with an ARC inflator happened on Jan. 29, 2009, in Ohio. A man complained to NHTSA that his wife was hurt by shrapnel when the air bag deployed after the van collided with a snowmobile. “Most of the shrapnel went into her chest, with the air bag plate breaking apart, striking her in the chin, breaking her jaw in three places,” wrote the man, who was not identified. He said: “If it hadn’t been for a great ambulance crew, she would have bled to death.”
ARC made inflators for Delphi Corp. air bags that were sold to Kia and used in Optimas, according to NHTSA. ARC also made them for Key Safety Systems air bags sold to Chrysler and used in minivans. Delphi said it will respond to NHTSA inquiries, and that it used some ARC inflators before selling its air bag business in 2010. Key said it would support the investigation. About three-quarters of Takata air bags that have ruptured in testing came from Florida, according to reports. The inflators have ruptured on about 300 of the 30,000 Takata air bags tested in the investigation, according to NHTSA.
Administer Rosekind urged people in Florida with recalled vehicles to get them fixed as soon as possible. High heat and humidity, especially along the Gulf Coast, is said to be a factor in causing Takata air bags to malfunction in cars from 11 different auto companies. One of the eight people killed by the air bags and 34 of the 105 people hurt were in Florida, according to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. “Supplies are on the shelves in this area of Florida because of the risk,” Rosekind said. But he added that if a dealer doesn’t have parts, people should demand a loaner car.
Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution
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