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BMW Recalls 150,000 Vehicles for Airbag Problem

Aug 15, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

BMW—the world’s largest premium car maker—is recalling approximately 150,000 of its vehicles in North America, it said this week.  The recall has been put in place to correct a possible airbag defect.  Apparently, the defect may prevent the front passenger airbag from opening in a crash.

The BMW recall involves the front passenger airbag seat sensor mat in some of BMW’s 2004 through 2006 model year vehicles, reported a company spokesman in Munich.  U.S. traffic safety regulators had referred to 200,000 such vehicles as having airbag problems and some reports are quoting the 200,000 figure.  Regarding the difference of 50,000 vehicles, the spokesman said that those vehicles had already received the new mats that now function properly.  "It is definitely only a problem for the U.S. and Canadian markets," the spokesman added, noting those two countries required sensors to detect if a baby seat or a grown person was occupying the passenger seat.

The recall was announced Wednesday and was initiated over problems in the passenger side air bag sensor that develop "depending upon the manner and frequency of the front passenger's entry and exit," the company said. The recall also is dependent "upon seat type," BMW said.  Meanwhile, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that the airbags my not deploy “even if a sufficiently severe accident would occur.”  Owners of these models should contact their local BMW dealership to discuss a time frame for airbag sensor replacement.

In a defect notice filed with the NHTSA, BMW explained that the problem involves the system that detects whether someone is sitting in the front passenger's seat.  "Depending on seat configuration and vehicle geometry," BMW says, "the mat can fatigue … over time, micro-cracks could develop in the side flanks of the mat."  These cracks could cause the system to de-activate passenger-side airbags even though the passenger seat is occupied.  If that were to happen, "the air bag warning lamp as well as the passenger air bag 'on-off' lamp will be illuminated to make the occupants aware of the deactivation."  The head-curtain airbags would still function.

BMS models impacted by this recall include certain 2006 3-Series, 2004 through 2006 5-Series, and 2004 through 2006 X3 vehicles.  BMW said it would begin sending letters to its customers beginning late next month, in September.  BMW also said that affected owners could continue to drive their vehicles unless the airbag warning lamp and the passenger airbag “on-off” lamp illuminated at the same time.

Should this occur, BMW suggests, "Customers not to use the front passenger seat and have the vehicle serviced immediately.”  BMW also added, “At the present time, we are unaware of any accidents or injuries as a result of this issue.”  The spokesman said BMW procured the sensor mats from the VDO automotive electronics business that Continental AG bought last year from Siemens.  "We don't want to blame them.  It is something we will solve in September," he said.

The BMW spokesman said he could not comment on the potential financial impact of the repairs, but he did say that, "We have it under control."


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