Kia recalls vehicles with defective air bag features

Irvine, Calif. – June 14, 2018 – Kia Motors America has recalled more than 500,00 vehicles potentially equipped with defective air bag control units, according to documentation submitted to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The campaign affects multiple models, including:
  • 2010-2013 Kia Forte sedans produced between Feb. 24, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2012.
  • 2011-2013 Kia Optima sedans produced between Aug. 12, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2012.
  • 2011-2012 Kia Optima Hybrid sedans produced between Feb. 15, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2012.
  • 2010-2013 Kia Koup sport sedans produced between June 5, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2012.
  • 2011-2012 Kia Sedona minivans produced between March 3, 2010, and Aug. 14, 2012.
The South Korean automaker suspects all of the vehicles referenced in the recall contain defective components.
The Defect
The vehicles involved in this action likely contain defective ACUs with application-specific integrated circuits that are prone to electrical overstress during frontal crashes. In the event of ASCI failure, front air bag and seat belt pretensioner deployment is inhibited, leaving both drivers and front passengers susceptible to injury. However, as of May 28, 2018, Kia has yet to receive field reports connecting the defective ACUs to any accidents or injuries.
Timeline of Events
In March 2014, a customer filed suit against Kia, alleging that the frontal air bags installed in his 2012 Kia Forte sedan failed to deploy during an accident, according to an internal chronology document given to the NHTSA. The automaker reported this event to the NHTSA, which then reached out to Kia for more information regarding the potential defect in July 2014.
Between March 2015 and June 2015, Kia conducted tests on the vehicle, including one trial during which an engineer attempted to download the ACU but was unable to communicate with the module. This prompted the car company to connect with its Michigan-based ACU supplier ZRF TWR. Personnel from the vendor replicated Kia’s actions and were unable to connect to the ACU. External engineering consultants looked into the matter and determined that ACU had compromised the front impact sensors, rendering the air bags in the vehicle useless. ZRF TWR then informed Kia that the NHTSA was investigating numerous models using its ACU units.
Kia continued to investigate the matter throughout the remainder of 2015, 2016 and 2017. These analyses failed to reveal a root cause. However, owners continued to report air bag deployment issues, forcing the automaker to expand the group of potentially affected vehicles to include Optima and Koup sedans and Sedona minivans.
Between January and February 2018, the NHTSA reconnected with Kia on several occasions to discuss the defective ACUs and requested that it re-establish a partnership with ZRF TWR to finally resolve the issue. In March, Hyundai recalled a large population of vehicles suffering from ACU failure, an event that engineers had linked to ASCI degradation caused by electrical overstress. On March 14, 2018, Kia officials met with the NHTSA in Washington D.C. to discuss the ACU failures occurring in its vehicles in the context of the findings mentioned in the Hyundai recall disclosure. Following this meeting, the NHTSA requested that Kia open a new investigation to assess whether the ASCIs in its ACUs were susceptible electrical overstress.
Throughout May 2018, Kia engineers conducted several tests, including a number of trials at the Vehicle Research and Test Center. On May 24, 2018, the automaker met with the NHTSA to review the data collected during one such test and found that vehicle involved showed signs of ASCI breakdown as a result of electrical overstress. This finding compelled Kia to issue a voluntary recall May 28, 2018.
The Solution
Kia has not yet developed an effective remedy, according to an NHTSA recall acknowledgement document. However, the car company does intend to reach out to dealers July 24, 2018, and contact owners via first-class mail July 27, 2018. Owners in need of assistance prior to the start of the recall can speak with Kia customer service staff by calling (888) 333-4542. Callers should use the internal recall reference code SC165. They can also connect with the NHTSA directly by using the agency’s toll-free Vehicle Safety Hotline at (888) 327-4236.
Sean ReyesKia recalls vehicles with defective air bag features