As part of a continuing plan to enhance vehicle safety, General Motors Company (GM) announced in September, 2016, that they would recall another 4.3 million vehicles worldwide to address another airbag problem. This time, the defect is in the software that controls airbag deployment. A defect may be present that would prevent deployment of the frontal airbag during a crash. To date, this particular flaw has only been linked to one death and three injury cases, but the potential for risk is great enough to warrant replacement of the potentially defective software.

Prior recalls were issued in 2014, for 2.6 million vehicles that had defective faulty ignition-switches that did not allow airbags to deploy in some crashes. This problem led to at least 124 deaths and 275 injury claims. Earlier in 2015, GM issued recalls for 2.5 million vehicles that had defective Takata inflators. The cost to GM was about $550 million for that recall program.

This 2016 recall expands the earlier lists of GM models with defective airbags and is a costly, but not detrimental, financial problem for the manufacturer. GM dealers will replace defective airbags at no charge to owners of vehicles recalled for airbag replacements. The latest problem involves a sensing and diagnostic module that controls the deployment of the frontal airbags, but only in “rare circumstances.” Regardless of the apparently low risk, owners of vehicles on the recall lists are encouraged to get replacements quickly.

Defective Airbags

Airbags have proven to be a valuable method for protection of vehicle occupants when there is a sudden collision. The airbag system consists of a software detection module, an inflator unit, a metal harness and the airbag. The airbag is hidden underneath a protective hard cover that will be ejected upon activation and inflation of the airbag. There are multiple points at which there could be defects, but the most prevalent involves the inflator device. It is filled with a chemical mix that explodes upon a signal from the software module. The explosion is very rapid, at about 212mph, as it inflates the airbag and pushes away the cover.

In some accidents, the entire system failed to perform, perhaps due to a problem in the detection system. In other cases, when the inflator device was activated, it shattered, sending small metal pieces like shrapnel into the vehicle compartment and causing injury to occupants. In other cases, the metal harness that held the airbag in place also shattered in a similar manner, releasing metal shards. Another problem occurs when the inflator punctures the airbag and then releases the chemical mix to damage skin and eyes. Airbags are designed with small holes to allow for a rapid reduction in firmness immediately after inflation. This is supposed to protect the occupant from being harmed by colliding with the extra hard airbag. Sometimes, the vents do not work properly and people are injured in the same way as hitting the solid parts of the vehicle interior.

Airbag Failure Injuries

When airbags are defective, a number of different types of injuries may occur, including death. Of the millions of vehicles outfitted with airbags, only a small number have failed and caused injuries or deaths. This still represents an unacceptable risk in the eyes of government regulators, who have demanded replacement of potentially defective airbags. In particular, airbags made by Takata have been the target of millions of recalls issued worldwide. The problem of replacement is another issue of concern, as developing and delivering safe airbags and parts to dealers has been slow. People may receive a recall notice, but their dealers do not have the replacement parts available immediately.

Airbag failure injuries can be easily seen or hidden, which presents another problem for those who are harmed by defective airbags. Visible injuries include bruising, cuts and lacerations, harm to eyes and skin, and more serious problems like amputations or decapitation. The impact of a person hitting an airbag that has inoperable venting is similar to hitting the hard steering wheel or dashboard. There may be head, neck and spine injuries from that impact, and other injuries that are harder to detect. Hidden injuries include damage to the chest wall, heart, brain, ear drums and blood vessels. Some injuries do not appear until a later time, but are caused by the airbag failure.

GM Defective Airbag – List of Cars

Of the 4.3 million vehicles most recently recalled, the list of cars includes many later models. While earlier airbag recalls affected models from around 2000 – 2007, the latest recalls are for trucks, cars and SUVs from model years between 2014 and 2017. Many popular models are including, such as the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Tahoe, Silverado 1500 and HD, Suburban and the Cadillac Escalade.

GM has added a search VIN function to their website, so consumers can enter their vehicle VIN number and see if that particular model has had any recalls issued. This list also can be found at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website and at At the NTHSA website, vehicle owners also can find out if their particular vehicle has not been recalled in the past 15 years. NTHDA provides information about recalls on a daily and monthly basis.

Airbag Software Defect Recall – This recall has been issued for the following GM vehicle models:

  • — 2014-2016 Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet SS, Chevrolet Spark EV
  • — 2014-2017 Buick Encore, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Corvette, Chevrolet Trax, Chevrolet Caprice police car and Chevrolet Silverado 1500
  • — 2015-2017 Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Silverado HD, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, GMC Sierra HD, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV.

October 26, 2016 Airbag Material Defect Recall – This recall is due to side airbag materials that may tear during deployment. It is for the following GM model vehicle:

  • — 2016 Chevrolet Malibu models that were produced between November 18, 2015, to June 7, 2016.

April 7, 2015 Update for Takata Airbag Recall

  • —2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500
  • —2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 3500
  • —2007-2008 GMC Sierra 2500
  • —2007-2008 GMC Sierra 3500
  • —2003-2008 Pontiac Vibe
  • —2005 Saab 9-2x
  • —2003-2011 Saab 9-3

GM makes every effort to contact owners of vehicles that are on a recall list but there are circumstances that make such contact impossible. They have provided VIN search information at their website, as does the NHTSA and If your vehicle has been recalled for an airbag defect, your dealer will inspect and replace the defective part free of charge. It is important to make these repairs immediately if your vehicle is on the recall list.