Volvo recalls over 460,000 cars after airbag explosion blamed for death

Volvo is recalling more than 460,000 cars world word, over fears that older airbags could prove deadly in the case of a crash. The recall – over half of the vehicles for which were sold in the US – does not concern Volvo's current line-up, but instead older cars with aging safety hardware.

In total, Volvo will recall 460,769 vehicles, the automaker confirmed today. 259,383 vehicles – including both S60 sedans and S80 sedans – were US cars.

"The driver's air bag inflator may explode during deployment, due to propellant degradation occurring after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high temperature cycling," Volvo informed the NHTSA. "An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants, resulting in serious injury or death."

The vehicles affected are model year 2001-2009 Volvo S60 and model year 2001-2006 Volvo S80. These were manufactured between May 2000 and March 2009, the automaker confirms.

"Dealers will replace the driver's air bag, free of charge," Volvo says. "Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed November 29, 2021. Owners may contact Volvo Car customer service at 1-800-458-1552. Volvo's number for this recall is R10125."

Airbags rely on inflator propellant in order to rapidly deploy out of the steering wheel, dashboard, or other parts of the car in the case of a crash. That propellant is typically in tablet or pellet form; however, over time, varying levels of moisture and/or temperature can cause degradation of the tablets. This leads to dust on the surface, which increases burn surface area and thus accelerates burn rate.

Should that happen, a higher burn rate can lead to higher combustion chamber pressure. In turn, that changes the force of the explosion and, potentially, causing shrapnel from other components such as the inflator to be launched at vehicle occupants. Volvo and inflator manufacturer ZF confirmed the findings, and the old inflator will be replaced with a modern version.

Volvo isn't the first automaker to be stung by airbag issues like this, and most car-makers have been forced to issue recalls over the past couple of decades to address aging safety equipment. The Swedish automaker – now owned by Chinese behemoth Geely – said that it was aware of one rupture incident, that led to a fatality.