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GM Recalls 3.6 Million Cars Linked to Airbag Issue

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Detroit, MIVehicles with Takata airbags aren't the only ones experiencing airbag failures and other issues, even if they are getting the bulk of the attention these days. In the past week, General Motors issued a recall of more than 3.6 million vehicles thanks to a reported airbag defect that might prevent the airbag from deploying.

According to WRBL (9/12/16), at least one person has died and three more were injured in events linked to the airbag failure, although the recall letter does not mention injury or death. The report blames the problem on unusual circumstances in which a vehicle's sensing and diagnostic modules enter test mode, which prevents the front airbags from deploying in a crash. In addition to an issue with the airbags, the seatbelt pretensioners may also not work as intended.

In a letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to GM, the agency noted "A failure of the front air bags or seat belt pretensioners to deploy in the event of a crash necessitating deployment increases the risk of injury to the driver and front passenger."

Owners can take their vehicles to their local dealer for repair. Included in the recall were various Buicks, Chevrolets, and GMC vehicles, all with model years of 2014 or later.

The affected GM airbags are reportedly not linked to the massive Takata recall, which was linked to 10 deaths and 100 injuries worldwide. Vehicles by 14 automakers were recalled thanks to issues with airbags that had parts supplied by Takata from 2002 to 2015. In those airbags, the inflator could ignite with too much force, sending metal shrapnel into a vehicle's cabin and potentially injuring occupants.

Takata airbag issues have been linked to the use of ammonium nitrate-based propellant that, without a drying agent, is affected by high temperatures and humidity. Once affected, the propellant can ignite the airbag with excessive force. In 2015, the NHTSA fined Takata $14,000 per day for not cooperating with an investigation into the airbags. Lawsuits have also been filed against automakers by people who were injured by faulty airbags.

A jury recently awarded $4.65 million to the widow of a man who committed suicide 1.5 years after an allegedly faulty airbag (not linked to the Takata recall) caused him to suffer serious injuries. According to The Post and Courier (8/29/16), the plaintiff alleged the airbag deployed late, allowing John Wickersham to be too close to the steering wheel by the time the airbag deployed. Suffering from extreme pain and concerned about disfigurement, Wickersham committed suicide. Ford tried to argue that the man had a history of depression, but a jury agreed with the plaintiff that the automaker was liable for the man's death.

Meanwhile, in August 2016, a truck carrying Takata airbag inflators and propellants was involved in an accident and exploded. The explosion reportedly caused one death and four serious injuries.

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