Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Enjoy life. Stay Safe. Love every mile.

Back in September, I wrote about a defect in the design of the passenger side airbag mechanism in my 2012 Subaru Impreza.

We’d be driving along, and all of a sudden the passenger airbag would shut off, leaving the passenger unprotected.

A service attendant mentioned that the on-off switch had nothing to do with weight. It was based on the amount of water in a person’s body. 

There is no warning about this shut-off system on the passenger side visor. And, if you check the owner’s manual, there is nothing about this issue in the opening section’s safety precautions, although there is material about the speed and force of airbag deployment. Later, embedded on page 42, there is this advisory if you happen to turn to that page: “If the front passenger’s seat cushion is wet, this may adversely affect the ability to determine deployment.  If the seat cushion is wet, the front passenger should stop sitting on the front passenger’s seat. Wipe off water from the seat immediately, let the seat dry naturally and then check the SRS airbag system warning light.…”

Let’s say you’ve never noticed this “feature.” You’re driving home from the beach on a crowded highway at 60 mph with your family in a full car, and the passenger airbag shuts off. Perhaps you see the shut-off light suddenly illuminating. How exactly do you stop the front passenger from sitting in the front passenger’s seat? Perhaps you don’t even see the shut-off advisory light, in that you are focused on the holiday traffic. In either case, your passenger faces an unexpected hazard.

When I brought this to the attention of Subaru, there was no recognition of the danger associated with the design.  So imagine my interest when I received the following recall notice from Subaru this week:

SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. has decided that a defect, which relates to motor vehicle safety, exists in certain 2012 model year Impreza vehicles equipped with a capacitance-type occupant detection system (ODS) in the front passenger seat.

You received this notice because our records indicate that you currently own one of these vehicles. 

When a right front seat passenger plugs a cell phone or other device into the accessory power outlet or touches a metal part of the vehicle that is grounded (such as the seat adjustment lever), the ODS may erroneously determine that the front passenger seat is unoccupied and deactivate the front passenger air bag.

Should this happen, the Air Bag Warning Light will illuminate and the Passenger Air Bag Indicator will illuminate “OFF”, providing a visual warning that the air bag system is not operating properly.
The passenger air bag will not deploy under these circumstances, increasing the risk of injury to a front seat passenger in the event of a crash. 

Subaru will replace the ODS Occupant Control Unit in your vehicle with a modified one at no cost to you. 

Hmm, I wonder why one defect warrants a recall when the other does not. As I noted back in September:

Many Subaru owners are outdoor types who will drive home after a jaunt to the beach or a hike in the wet woods. How many of them know they are in danger when they do so?

I like my car.  I just want to "enjoy life, stay safe, and love every mile." What does it take to get this company's attention?


Anonymous said...

This seems like a complaint for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Paul Levy said...

I've submitted one. We'll see.

Barry Carol said...

You might try writing to the CEO.

Danny Getchell said...

Well, Paul, as long as your passenger has his seat belt on, you basically do not have a problem. I drive a car without air bags of any kind several times a week with no qualms whatever.

Anonymous said...

Danny, that's besides the point, isn't it? Shouldn't a safety device function as it's supposed to? If it won't, ought that not to be disclosed upon purchase? It seems the Subaru techs don't understand the way the mechanism functions, either, if it took multiple visits before someone could figure out what was happening. Why the recall for one set of reasons that cause the airbags to turn off, and not the other known reason?

Anonymous said...

Paul, have you taken your car in for the recall? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my local dealer doesn't have the part for the repair (they made it sound like they've never had the part, ever). I've been reading on other Subaru blogs that the recall has been issued, but none of the repair parts have been distributed.

Paul Levy said...

Thanks. Away from home, so I don't know if I received a recall notice. Will check!