In November 2012, Chrysler recalled nearly 745,000 Jeep vehicles: the 2002-2003 Jeep Liberty and the 2002-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The problem? A glitch in the Occupant Restraint Control module, which was causing airbags to deploy at random, with little or no warning.
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That's a significant problem -- and not just because airbags can obstruct a driver's vision and cause a serious distraction. Airbags have proven very effective at saving lives, but they've also been known to cause significant injuries. In the lead up to the recall, Chrysler received "reports of 215 inadvertent airbag deployments (126 in Jeep Liberty and 89 in Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs) and 81 minor injuries.... The injuries included burns, cuts and bruises to the upper body".
To address the issue, Chrysler dealers installed a supplemental jumper harness, which contained an electrical filter. That filter was designed to eliminate electrical spikes to the Occupant Restraint Control module, which Chrysler believed were causing the airbag deployments.
Unfortunately, Chrysler's fix hasn't completely resolved the problem. According to a bulletin posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website (PDF), "Chrysler reported it is aware of 6 vehicles that have had an [inadvertent airbag deployment] after the recall was conducted; in each case the remedy filter had been installed in the vehicle". Though the deployments haven't caused accidents, vehicle occupants have suffered cuts and burns as a result.
And so, NHTSA has launched an investigation of Chrysler's recall and repair. During the Preliminary Evaluation phase, NHTSA will work with Chrysler to evaluate the complaints lodged since the recall. If the situation warrants, the investigation will move on to the second phase, the Engineering Analysis, when engineers will attempt to recreate the issue in test scenarios. If they're able to do so, and if the problem seems consistent and widespread, Chrysler will likely issue a second recall for the affected vehicles.
We'll keep you posted as the investigation progresses.