June 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

NHTSA investigates 1.1 million vehicles for air bag problems

Washington— Federal safety officials said Wednesday they are investigating 1.1 million vehicles from five major automakers for problems with air bags, the same day Toyota Motor Corp. announced it was expanding its 2013 recall for similar air bag issues.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said its new investigation is prompted by six incidents involving 2002-06 vehicles with air bag modules built by Takata in which the air bag ruptured during deployment. Exploding air bags can cause burns or other serious injuries.

On Wednesday, Toyota announced it was recalling 650,000 vehicles for air bag problems with parts produced by Japanese air bag maker Takata. The worldwide expansion comes as Toyota said it will re-notify 2.3 million owners of vehicles involved in an April 2013 recall of a new recall procedure.

Toyota said it has determined that serial numbers provided by the supplier were incomplete, and did not include all of the potentially defective bags. For recalled vehicles that were inspected and did not receive a replacement inflater, Toyota will re-notify the owners and replace it with a new one.

Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Nissan Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Co. all said they are cooperating with the investigation.

The involved vehicles were equipped with front passenger air bag inflaters which could have been assembled with improperly manufactured propellent. That could cause the inflater to rupture and the front passenger air bag to deploy abnormally in a crash.

In April 2013, six automakers recalled 3.7 million vehicles worldwide for air bags built by Takata that could catch fire or send metal fragments flying. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, General Motors Co. and BMW AG recalled vehicles linked to the faulty part.

NHTSA said Wednesday it is opening an investigation to collect additional information from Takata and automakers to “better understand the cause and scope of the potential safety defect and ensure that all affected vehicles are recalled,” the safety agency said in a statement.

It’s the latest major investigation into air bags the auto safety agency has launched in recent years.

NHTSA says it has seen a half-dozen incidents since August, including reports of three minor injuries, including ones involving a passenger bag rupture on a 2004 Nissan Sentra, 2005 Honda Civic, 2003 Toyota Corolla, 2005 Mazda6 and a 2006 Dodge Charger. Toyota also provided another passenger bag rupture on a 2002 Toyota Corolla. NHTSA noted that incidents occurred in high-humidity Florida and Puerto Rico.

One incident from August 2013 that involved the Civic reported a 1-inch piece of shrapnel was driven into the driver’s right eye resulting in loss of sight and requiring 100 stitches to the nose.

In April, a woman reported that she was driving a 2005 Mazda6 when she rear-ended a car; the air bag exploded and she got cuts and burns on both arms and the left side of her face. She said she has partial hearing loss.

Takata, which has a major presence in southeast Michigan and headquarters in Auburn Hills, said last year it was aware of six incidents worldwide: two in Japan and four in the U.S.

Alby Berman, vice president of Takata communications, said the company “is cooperating with and supporting NHTSA and their decision for the probe and have nothing to add to the NHTSA release at this time.”