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General Motors has issued a recall of nearly one million vehicles due to potentially faulty driver-side airbag inflators. This GM airbag recall could signal a larger problem. These faulty airbag inflators could explode and injure or kill drivers of affected Buick, GMC, and Chevy SUVs.

What caused this new GM airbag recall?

2017 Chevrolet Traverse Driver-Side - The airbag in this steering wheel is the reason for the recent GM recall of nearly one million SUVs
2017 Chevy Traverse | Chevrolet

GM notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in March of a crash involving a 2017 Chevy Traverse in which the front-driver airbag inflator ruptured during deployment. The driver sustained facial injuries during the collision. This is the second incident involving a GM SUV equipped with ARC Automotive Inc. airbags. The first involved a 2015 Traverse with the same airbag system.

Why are 2 crashes causing a recall of almost a million vehicles?

Although the ARC Automotive airbags are not behaving the same way the previously recalled Takata airbags behaved, caution is necessary to ensure the safety of vehicle owners on the road. This abundance of caution points to the infamous Takata airbag recall, in which inflators could rupture, catch fire, or explode even when the vehicle doesn’t crash.

Which GM SUVs are involved in the airbag recall, and what is the fix?

The following models and years have a front-driver airbag module with an ARC inflator installed as part of the original equipment. GM’s concern is these inflators might explode during deployment due to a manufacturing defect. Here are the potentially affected vehicles:

  • 2014 to 2017 Buick Enclave — 244,304 SUVs
  • 2014 to 2017 Chevrolet Traverse — 457,316 SUVs
  • 2014 to 2017 GMC Acadia — 293,143 SUVs

General Motors began sending letters to owners on June 25. GM said dealers would replace the driver’s airbag module, free of charge. The company also said it would offer courtesy transportation on a case-by-case basis to owners who feared driving vehicles involved in the recall.

Is ARC Automotive Inc. facing any backlash from this GM airbag recall?

The NHTSA has investigated the ARC airbag inflators since 2016. In a May 2023 letter to ARC Automotive Inc., the NHTSA said it “tentatively concluded that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists in the frontal driver and passenger airbag inflators.” The agency then ordered ARC Automotive Inc. to recall 67 million inflators.

Stephen Ridella, director of the NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigations, wrote:

Airbag inflators that project meta fragments into vehicle occupants, rather than properly inflating the attached airbag, create an unreasonable risk of death and injury.

The company, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is fighting this action, claiming any problems with the airbags are related to the automaker’s installation. In a May 11 response to the NHTSA, ARC said that “weld slag” could be to blame for the blocked inflators and could send shrapnel into a vehicle’s cabin.

How many people have been killed or injured by these ARC inflators?

So far, at least two people have been killed in the United States and Canada, while seven others have been injured. One of the two deaths was a mother of 10 who died after metal inflator fragments hit her neck during a minor crash in Michigan in 2021. She was driving a 2015 Chevy Traverse.

GM is one of over a dozen automakers using ARC inflators. Others are Chrysler, Kia, Hyundai, and Volkswagen.

What’s the next step in the GM airbag recall?

The next step for the NHTSA is to schedule a public hearing and potentially take ARC to court to force the company to issue a recall. GM’s airbag recall might be the beginning of a far-reaching recall like the one involving nearly 70 million Takata airbags.