In recent years, millions of vehicle owners have been contacted by automotive manufacturers about getting replacements for defective airbag inflators and other components. Most of the airbags in question were produced by Takata, but another airbag producer, ARC Automotive Inc. (ARC), is now targeted in a probe by U.S. safety regulators for the same issues. In a 2015 report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that product failures involving inflators made by ARC also are being investigated.

ARC Automotive, Inc., has manufactured several types of automotive airbag inflators and parts. Although located in Knoxville, Tennessee, it has manufacturing facilities in Detroit, Michigan, as well as in Mexico, China, Korea, and Japan.

ARC Airbag Recall

The first models investigated in this ARC airbag probe situation include about 420,000 older Fiat Chrysler Town and Country minivans and 70,000 Kia Optima midsize sedans. The safety regulators decided to open a probe to investigate ARC inflators after an ARC driver’s side inflator was involved in a 2009 accident. The vehicle in that incident was a 2002 Chrysler minivan. Another case, and the only other known one that involved ARC inflators at the time, involved an inflator failure in a 2004 Optima. This investigation follows massive recalls for Takata produced airbags and inflators.

Recalls for Takata airbags are the largest automotive recall ever attempted. About a dozen people have died due to Takata airbag defects, and there have been over 300 injuries. In the ARC probe, two people in those incidents were injured and no other reports of airbag inflator failures have been reported for those two models. The initial ARC probe was to determine the facts involved and potential risks.

ARC airbag systems are similar to the ones that are produced by Takata. A folded nylon airbag is hidden behind a removable plate on the steering wheel, front passenger side dash or side door on most vehicles. The airbag has an inflator mechanism inside, held in place by a thin metal casing. It contains chemicals that create a different gas when activated by a sensor that recognizes an impact or collision to inflate the airbag. This inflation happens at speeds up to 100 mph or more. Airbags have vents to allow some of the contents to disperse, so the bag is a bit flexible and not so hard as to cause harm.

Since the original probe opened, there has been a fatality reported that occurred when an ARC inflator shattered, sending shrapnel into the 2009 Hyundai Elantra vehicle. The investigation is now expanded to research over 8 million ARC inflators in use and it may be widened. This accident happened in Newfoundland; the driver died after the airbag ruptured, with metal shards inflicting critical wounds.

Airbag Deployment Failures

Most of the airbag deployment failures involve defective inflators. Several problems can be documents with these parts. In some cases, the inflator case cracked, allowing the chemicals inside to mix. The inflators contain propellant chemicals which form hot hydrogen gas when activated. This in turn creates an almost instantaneous explosion which inflates the folded nylon airbag. The inflated airbag provides a protective cushion for the driver or passenger, helping to prevent collisions between the occupants and the vehicle steering wheel or other hard parts like the dashboard or windows.

If the airbag inflator is defective, it could generate a premature airbag explosion when there has been no collision or impact requiring that protection. Another problem occurs when the activation is appropriate, but the force is excessive, thus causing the inflator casing to shatter. The force is at high speeds of 100 mph or more, and this can send loose metal shards out into the vehicle, rupturing the airbag. These pieces of fractured metal act like shrapnel, very capable of wounding or killing any person who is impaled by these objects. Several deaths have occurred when metal shards punctured the victim’s neck jugular vein or carotid arteries.

Airbag functioning also involves a sensor that activates the inflator. If there is a short circuit because some loose piece of metal interferes with the sensor area, it could cause faulty activation of the airbag system. A defective sensor also may result in airbag failure to work at all when needed or inflation when the vehicle is not even turned on.

Airbag Failure Injuries

Airbags are an important part of vehicle safety equipment, and they have been proven to save many lives. In the United States, airbags are required as standard equipment on all vehicles made or sold in the U.S. since 1998. Airbags that work properly have saved lives and protected millions of people when they were in collisions. Any incidences of airbag failures generally result in injury and in some cases death. The injuries caused by ARC airbag deployment failures are similar to those caused by failures of the Takata airbags system.

Injures that can occur when an airbag does not deploy as designed include cuts, chemical burns, and impact injuries to chest, head or facial areas, including harm to eyes and eardrums. When the airbag ruptures because the inflator has shattered, metal shards can be projected outwards at very high speeds, causing puncture wounds and if the shards lodge in the neck jugular vein or carotid arteries, it can result in death. Lesser problems occur when airbags inflate prematurely due to some defect in the sensor, inflator case or propellant mixture. Nonetheless, injuries may occur, including severe ones if the inflator shatters.

Models Recalled

NHTSA has identified the following manufacturers that produced vehicles outfitted with ARC airbag products:

  • Hyundai: 2009 Elantra
  • Kia: 2004 Optima
  • Fiat Chrysler: 2002 Town and Country
  • GM: No specific vehicles identified, yet

Recall Resolutions

Automobile manufacturers and their dealers are very interested in helping their vehicle owners resolve any airbag replacement matters. You can find complete information and VIN verification links at most vehicle producers’ main websites. Another good resource is the government website that features the latest recall information put forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

You should also recheck your VIN Number every few months because ongoing problems result in additional recalls of millions of vehicles for airbag component replacements. Even if you have had the part replaced, some replacement parts also are being found to be defective, again needing replacement.

Here are two good websites where you can check your VIN number: