‘It becomes a bomb’: Company refuses to issue recall over millions of exploding airbags

Investigators say some airbags that are supposed to protect you in a crash are exploding and causing injuries instead.

A dozen automakers use airbag inflators from a company called ARC. That company is refusing a request from federal regulators that it recalls millions of those airbags.

Typically, when there is a recall, it’s easy to know if you are impacted. You look on your car for the VIN and put it into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s database.

But there are millions of these ARC inflators out there, and Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray has learned that we don’t know what cars they are in.

Attorney Andrew Parker Felix from Morgan and Morgan shared photos of hiin client, a woman from Michigan, who he said was injured because of one of the airbags.

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“My client was catastrophically injured,” Felix told Gray.

Doctors removed a piece of shrapnel from the woman’s neck.

Felix said his client is still breathing out of a tracheotomy tube from the March injuries.

“The shrapnel in her neck destroyed her jaw, knocked out multiple teeth,” Felix said.

The cause of the injuries was the airbag in her car. More specifically, the inflator manufactured by ARC.

Federal regulators at NHTSA just sent a letter to ARC asking for the voluntary recall of 67 million ARC inflators, saying they “pose an unreasonable risk of death or injury that may result from an item of motor vehicle equipment that, when not defective, is designed to save lives.”

“They’re the ones responsible for basically putting a grenade in the consumer steering wheel,” Felix said.


NHTSA said it has documented two deaths and at least seven injuries tied to the ARC inflators.

But ARC is refusing to recall the inflators, writing back to NHTSA, “The existence of seven field incidents does not support a finding that a systemic and prevalent defect exists across this population.”

NHTSA said it’s a manufacturing defect where excess debris clogs the inflator.

“So essentially, you have a canister where the pressurized gas has no way to escape and it becomes a bomb,” said Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety.

Channel 2 Action News has shown you before what it looks like when that happens, and an airbag inflator explodes.

The ARC inflators cause the same types of explosions and injuries as the Takata airbag defect that led to a massive worldwide recall.

We know at least 12 vehicle manufacturers use the ARC inflaters, but do not know what car makes and models may have allegedly faulty parts.

“They’re very protective of which airbags they’re installing in which vehicles. That’s confidential information to them. So they don’t like that information getting out, even though it prevents consumers from being a little more aware of whether their vehicle might have a defect,” Brooks said.

With ARC refusing to recall the inflators, the next step for NHTSA is to issue a final report and then it could move to taking ARC to court and requiring a recall.

Some automakers are proactively issuing their own. Just last week, GM recalled about 1 million vehicles with ARC components, including the Chevy Traverse model the woman in our story was driving.