The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into a recall involving an alleged defect affecting eight Volkswagen vehicle models that could cause the front driver air bag to fail to deploy during a crash. The agency notified Volkswagen Group of America Inc. on Nov. 15 by letter. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation is looking into a 2015 recall involving alleged steering column control module failures affecting an estimated 415,825 vehicles. The investigation is known as a “recall query.” According to NHTSA, such investigations are intended to determine whether the scope of the recall should be expanded or if the repair is adequate. The vehicles at issue are 2010-2014 model year CCs and Passats, 2010-2013 Eos, 2011-2014 Golfs, GTIs, Jettas and Tiguans, and 2012-2014 Jetta Sportswagens.
NHTSA asked Volkswagen to respond to the letter with all requested documents about those vehicles by Jan. 16. If the automaker doesn’t comply, it could be fined $21,000 per violation up to a maximum of $105 million. The reports have said the alleged failures occur during normal driving conditions and that upon failure the air bag warning light on the dashboard lights up and the performance of the front driver air bag is compromised, possibly to the point where it might not deploy during a crash, NHTSA said.
NHTSA said it received 90 reports of the alleged issue. The control module failure has sometimes been preceded by a noise from the steering column, NHTSA said, adding that other steering wheel controls, such as the horn and cruise control, may also stop working.
In its 2015 recall notice, NHTSA said that in affected vehicles, debris may get into the area that contains the air bag clock spring, a spiral-wound, flat cable that keeps the air bag powered while the steering wheel is being turned. The presence of debris may tear the cable and result in a loss of electrical power to the air bag. Volkswagen told Law360 that it is cooperating with NHTSA.
Earlier this year, Audi (a member of the Volkswagen Group) recalled more than 600,000 vehicles in the U.S. due to an air bag problem that could hurt or kill passengers with shrapnel, and coolant pumps that could catch fire. According to forms filed with NHTSA in January, 234,000 Audi Q5 crossover SUVs built for model years 2011-2017 needed to be recalled to replace or protect side curtain air bag canisters that could be dampened by liquid leaking from the vehicles’ sunroof drainage systems. The liquid could corrode the canisters, causing them to explode upon air bag deployment, sending shrapnel into the passenger area, Audi said. The automaker also said that 340,000 vehicles of multiple model types had coolant pumps that could clog or catch fire.
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