The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA has closed an investigation it opened in April 2021, noting the rarity of the GM airbag warning light malfunction that was earlier alleged to be the cause of injuries in the event of a crash.
The alleged hazard involved illuminated GM airbag warning lights indicating a problem with the driver-side frontal airbag, which, it was claimed, might fail to deploy during an accident. Failure of the airbag to inflate could result in a higher risk of injury to the vehicle’s driver in a front-end collision, assuming it occurred at all.
The alleged fault would result from rust particles working their way into the driver side airbag inflator’s connection terminal interface when the GM vehicle was being produced. Having the rust particles directly in the electrical connection could raise the connection’s electrical resistance enough for it to misfire. This could block the signal to the inflator during a crash long enough for airbag inflation to fail.
The symptoms of the problem consisted of airbag warning lights staying on, along with DTC or diagnostic trouble code readings of either B0001-1B or B0012-0D.
However, after preliminary evaluation of the GM airbag warning light issue, the NHTSA decided to close the investigation. The NHTSA said the problem occurred at a “low rate” and closed the matter because of “the nature of early-life failure, the high detectability of failures, and low potential hazard to drivers.”
The NHTSA failed to uncover any crashes, fires, injuries, or deaths resulting from the condition. The occasional, extremely short spike in electrical resistance caused by flecks of rust in the airbag inflator connection would have to occur in exact synchrony with a collision in order for the airbag to fail to inflate as a result, an event of extreme statistical unlikelihood.
Two months after originally opening the investigation, in June 2021, the NHTSA issued a safety recall for multiple GM vehicle models potentially affected by a faulty airbag malfunction warning light. In this case, there was no actual problem with the airbag itself known or suspected, but the malfunctioning light could lead to owners believing there was a problem when there was none in actual fact.
The list of affected vehicles differed from those under investigation, though there was some overlap. One Buick model was involved in the recall while the investigation did not include any Buicks. The recalled fault also resulted from a different source, specifically a software glitch in the communications gateway module rather than physical rust particles.
Regarding the recently closed investigation, the NHTSA remarked that “a correlation exists between production delays due to the pandemic shutdown” and the inflator connection rust particles, with rusting occurring during the greatly extended 7-month production period of the possibly affected units.