Subaru’s Expanded Airbag Recall WQR53

Re: NHTSA Recall No. 15V-323

After watching story after story over the past year on the huge airbag recall from Takata Corporation, we were relieved to not see our vehicles on the list. However, I got this gem from Subaru of America, Inc. in the mail this week. In short, it says:

  1. We’re concerned enough about your passenger airbag that we’re writing to you.
  2. We don’t have parts right now, so we’ll write to you again when we do. We’re not quite sure when this will be.
  3. Oh, don’t have anyone ride in the passenger seat in the meantime, because they could die.

On its face, this letter is shameful. It reeks of lawyers, and I fear that if I were to theoretically get into an accident where a passenger was maimed or killed, would Subaru hide behind this letter, indemnifying themselves? “See, we told you not to let any passengers ride in the front seat, and see what happened?” Can they even do that?

Naturally, I was curious enough to not idly wait until I got another letter, so after calling my local Subaru dealer and getting on their list of folks to call when the parts are available, I decided to dig a little deeper. Never mind the annoyance of the letter’s implication for a family of 4, that we basically can’t use the car if we all need to get somewhere (imagine me in the back seat with the kids, my wife driving us like us like an Uber).

I found the official notification from the NHTSA, which contains:

The propellant wafers in some of the subject inflators may experience an alteration over time, which could potentially lead to over-aggressive combustion in the event of an air bag deployment. Depending on the circumstances, this potential condition could create excessive internal pressure when the air bag is deployed, which could result in the body of the inflator rupturing upon deployment. Based upon Takata’s investigation to date, the potential for such ruptures may occur in some of the subject inflators after several years of exposure to persistent conditions of high absolute humidity.

Note that as New York residents, we were not prioritized for recall notification since we don’t live in a high-humidity state (FL, HI, PR, GU, VI, AL, GA,MS, TX, LA). The NHTSA documentation says that “all other owners affected by this recall will be sent a letter to advise them that their car is affected and that they will be notified again once sufficient parts supply is available.” So, we’re in this secondary notification due to Takata’s investigation that said leaks are possible in areas outside of the states listed above.

Takata is also aware of a potential issue associated with the inflator body internal tape seals on some SPI inflators. During its investigation, Takata observed a small number of tape seal leaks in SPI inflators manufactured prior to 2007. These leaks were discovered during leak testing in 2014, as part of the Takata returned-inflator evaluation program. Leaks have been found in SPI inflators returned from several of the vehicle manufacturers. Such a leak can increase the potential for moisture to reach the main propellant wafers, possibly in areas outside of the highest absolute humidity States.

So, where does that leave us? It seems this problem may get worse over time, and only affects the passenger airbag (why not the driver’s side?). We’re in a waiting game now, a period during which if we have a ride to take for the four of us, we’ll take our newer Honda Pilot. Otherwise, grab a seat in the back, and I’ll say, “Where to, sir?”