By John Dumoulin
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has closed its Preliminary Evaluation regarding an alleged malfunction of the occupant classification system (OCS) for the front passenger side air bag affecting 186,132 model year 2007-2009 Kia Spectra vehicles based on its finding that Kia had mitigate any unreasonable risk to safety posed by OCS sensor mat failures in the subject vehicles. The alleged defect could cause the passenger side air bag to not operate as intended (NHTSA ODI Investigation, No. PE15-031, February 11, 2016).
Underlying complaint and investigation. According to ODI’s notice, owners had reported that the SRS (air bag) warning light was illuminated in their vehicles. The focus of the investigation was the failure of the front seat passenger OCS sensor mat. This sensor mat is embedded in the front passenger seat cushion and is intended to detect child seats and small statured occupants who could be harmed by deployment of the passenger frontal air bag.
The OCS may develop a failure due to an open circuit in the sensor mat caused by the mat cracking during use. An open circuit in the OCS sensor mat is detected as a fault in the system by the air bag diagnostic. A trouble code will then be stored in the air bag control unit, and the air bag warning light will be illuminated. If this fault is detected, the OCS will not suppress the front passenger air bag, and in a crash of sufficient severity, the front passenger air bag will deploy regardless of the nature or size of the child seat or occupant in the front passenger seat.
Kia’s assessment was that the cracking was caused by owner abuse. The subject vehicles have been in service for an average of approximately eight years. An analysis of Kia’s warranty data for the vehicles, including a comparison with other agency and manufacturer data pertaining to similar OCS failure investigations, indicates that the vehicles experience a comparatively low complaint rate for this issue given the number of years the vehicles have been in service.
Kia has implemented an extended warranty program for the OCS sensor mat, providing for free replacement for 15 years regardless of vehicle mileage, and will send owners of the subject vehicles letters notifying them of the potential hazards posed by OCS failure, as well as the terms of the extended warranty. Consumers whose air bag warning light is illuminated will have the opportunity to have their vehicles diagnosed and, if a fault is indicated, have the OCS sensor mat repaired at no charge.
ODI determination. ODI said that in view of the comparatively low complaint rate and Kia’s implementation of an extended warranty with owner notification, it has tentatively concluded that the actions taken by Kia mitigate any unreasonable risk to safety posed by OCS sensor mat failures in the subject vehicles. Therefore, ODI has closed the investigation. ODI stated, though, that the closing of this investigation does not constitute a finding by NHTSA that a safety-related defect does not exist and that the agency reserves the right to take additional action if warranted by new circumstances.
Companies: Kia Motors America
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