NHTSA upgrades investigation of potentially fatal airbag flaw

The investigation covers a total of 12.3 million vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ramping up its investigation of more than 12 million vehicles that may have been equipped with faulty airbags.

The NHTSA announced late last week that it's upgrading its preliminary evaluation into a potentially faulty airbag system, which was launch by the agency in 2018, to an engineering analysis. The agency is trying to determine if a recall is necessary to replace the airbag modules in some 12.3 million vehicles.

According to the NHTSA, its investigation is focusing on airbag control units produced by TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., now owned by ZF Friedrichshafen. The agency says it has evidence the airbags produced by TRW could fail because of "electrical overstress,” resulting in the airbags failing to deploy during a normal crash. The defect can also deactivate a vehicle's seat belt pretensioners.

The NHTSA says the airbags in question were installed between 2010-19 in vehicles made by FCA, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi and Toyota. The agency believes the defective airbag produced by TRW is responsible for eight deaths.

FCA recalled 1.4 million vehicles in 2016 to address the faulty airbag unit.

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