NHTSA launches new probe into Honda airbag control modules

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind discusses airbag issues recently during a press conference. The safety agency today noted it had opened a new probe into failing Honda airbag controller modules.

Since 2008, Honda has faced a huge number of vehicle recalls due to faulty Takata airbag inflators. The automaker has been forced to recall more than 24 million vehicles, by far, the largest number of cars and trucks feeling the impact of the recall. The primary reason Honda has felt the greatest impact is that until early this year, Takata was Honda’s primary airbag supplier. In fact, Honda owns 1.5 percent of Takata. Today, though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a new probe of airbags in Honda Accord models, unrelated to the faulty airbag inflators. The new probe involves malfunctioning airbag control modules that may prevent airbag deployment in a crash.

According to Automotive News today, the safety agency is looking into the performance of airbag control modules in 348,000 Honda Accords manufactured in 2008. NHTSA indicated that it had received a total of 19 complaints where airbags failed to deploy in crashes. One driver was injured when airbag deployment failed in a frontal crash. The key issue involves the ability of the control modules to communicate with each other and the engine control computer (ECC). The ECC monitors sensor arrays and control modules across the engine bay. It talks with each component on the control access network (CAN), the vehicular Internet. At issue is the inability of the airbag control modules to talk to the ECC.

Though the faulty airbag control modules do cause the dashboard indicator for the supplemental restraint issue to light, no fault codes are generated or captured by the ECC, where fault codes are stored. If a fault code isn’t stored, it isn’t available for a mechanic to use in any diagnostic routine.

In a statement from the automaker, Honda indicated that it was familiar with and cooperating with the agency in the probe. Further, Honda indicated it was conducting its own probe into the problem. NHTSA’s main issue is with the modules’ inability to communicate with one another. NHTSA told Automotive News that the communication issue “raises concern about the readiness of the entire supplemental restraints system.” Some consumers have reportedly had the modules swapped out. NHTSA indicated that it will issue a recall if one is needed.

The Takata airbag inflator recall has been particularly hard on Honda. The number of Honda vehicles that have been recalled due to faulty airbag inflators now stands at 24.5 million in total. Honda has felt the impact of the recalls because Takata, the airbag manufacturer whose faulty inflators have been linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries, was the automaker’s primary supplier until February of this year when it added others including Autoliv and Daicel. The recall has now become the largest in history with more than 40 million vehicles recalled domestically and more than 53 million worldwide.

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