Four people have been killed after air bags in some Hyundai and Kia cars failed to inflate in crashes. The U.S. government’s road safety agency is now investigating why. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it’s looking into problems that affect an estimated 425,000 cars made by the Korean automakers. The agency also is looking into whether the same problem could happen in vehicles made by other companies.
Documents posted on Saturday said that the probe covers 2011 Hyundai Sonata midsize cars and 2012 and 2013 Kia Forte compacts. The agency says it has reports of six front-end crashes with significant damage to the cars. Four people died and six were injured.
The problem is believed to from electrical circuit shorts in air bag control computers made by parts supplier ZF-TRW. NHTSA now wants to know if other automakers used the same computer.
Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor says the problem occurred in rare head-on collisions that were offset from the center of the vehicles. “It’s very unusual to have that kind of collision,” Trainor said. Dealers will consider offering loaner cars to owners until the problem can be repaired, he said. “We certainly would do everything we can to help our customers,” Trainor said.
Hyundai investigated and found the problem was “electrical overstress” in the computers. Hyundai does not yet have a fix for the problem but said it expects the Sonata recall to start April 20. The problem also can stop the seat belts from tightening before a crash.
Four crashes occurred in Sonatas and two happened in Fortes. One Forte crash happened in Canada.