Hyundai Motors has announced a recall of over 84,000 Genesis Coupe vehicles, effective December 2.
It appears that once again, airbags are the central issue of an automotive recall. According to Hyundai, Genesis Coupes sold from 2010 through 2016 may suffer from electrical problems that affect airbag deployment. Given that the 2010 model was the first to debut in the U.S. market, this means that virtually all of these coupes registered in America have this potential problem.
More specifically, a wiring harness connector in the vehicle's Occupant Classification System (OCS) can become dislodged. The OCS is the hardware in the car that recognizes whether an adult passenger is in the car's front seat.
To quote the specifics of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA):
"Objects or debris placed under the front passenger seat can contact the OCS electrical connector. When the seat is moved, these items can interfere with the connector assembly and potentially dislodge the connector."
So if a loose soda can rolls under your seat, or you scoot forward or back to more comfortably accommodate a passenger, there's a chance the OCS connector can get knocked loose.
If that should happen, it could cause one of two major problems: The bag could inflate when a child occupies the passenger seat, or it might fail to deploy with enough force to protect an adult in the event of a collision.
While Hyundai has received no reports of injury so far, both described instances could cause serious harm to a passenger.
Possible Injuries: Malfunctioning Passenger-Side Airbag
In both the described scenarios, a passenger runs considerable risk of getting hurt by airbag deployment or failure. A lot of warnings already exist about the hazards of putting a young child in the passenger seat:
Infants in car seats and young children who are too small to be restrained by conventional seat belt arrangements run increased risks of being seriously damaged by a deploying airbag. In a coupe, the urge to strap a child into the front passenger seat is most likely magnified, since restraining them properly in the back is much less convenient without sedan-style rear doors.
Most people likely feel they are safe enough drivers to protect their front-riding children, but it just isn't possible to predict the behavior of every driver on the road. More than that, the faulty wiring of the bag can apparently cause it to deploy prematurely, meaning unpredictable drivers and auto accidents aren't even necessary factors before injury can occur. Even were this not the case, every auto maker concurs that young children belong in the back seat for maximum protection.
While avoiding the graphic photos turned up by a search for "child airbag injuries" (I do not recommend Googling that), the illustration to the right aptly depicts the inherent risks faced by young children in the front passenger seat. Given the apparently-random hazard created by the electrical issue, it is best to follow normal protocols and seat children in the back, using appropriate restraint methods.
The other issue relates primarily to the passenger airbag's behavior if a crash occurs. If the OCS malfunction happens, the airbag warning light will activate on the instrument panel to indicate there's an issue. The airbag system won't be completely deactivated, but will instead default to a setting that still allows the first-stage frontal passenger airbag to deploy. That sounds reassuring, but as noted before, the real problem is that the airbag might not deploy with enough force to actually stop a forward-propelled passenger.
Two-step or two-stage airbags work by attaching two canisters of propellant to the same bag, and in the event of a crash, the onboard "brain" of the car determines whether one or both canisters need to be triggered to counter the force of the collision. If the OCS error only allows the bag to partially inflate from the first-stage canister, it might not be enough to prevent passenger injury.
The Genesis Coupe Has Had Other Recalls.
Searching into any car model's history is likely to turn up some scary-sounding recalls, and the Genesis Coupe is unfortunately not an exception. In addition to the newest recall about the airbag connectors, some manual-transmission models of 2013-2015 Genesis Coupes had a problem with rear suspension problems that could have stemmed from improper welding and alignment on the factory floor. This suspension issue could also lead disconnecting rear differentials. To quote the recall's specific wording about the consequences of such an event:
If the rear differential loosens from its mounting position, the driveshaft may disconnect from the differential, resulting in a loss of propulsion and an increased risk of a crash.
Beyond that, the other major recall was in 2013, when it appeared that the factory had put brake fluid in new models that did not adequately protect against the corrosion of the Hydraulic Electronic Control Unit (HECU), which is a vital component in a vehicle's brake control systems. According to the recall, "If the module corrodes, reduced brake effectiveness may result, increasing the risk of a crash."
As with most recalls, the proposed fix in both these cases was to take affected vehicles to a dealership, which would then make the necessary adjustments.
What's the Suggested Fix?
Be on the lookout for a recall notice, Coupe owners; it appears Hyundai will stick to the normal program and advise you to take your car to a local dealership, where they will more carefully secure the faulty wiring. By removing or at least lessening the chance of electrical disconnection, malfunction should in theory be prevented.
Unlike bigger problems plaguing other vehicles, such as exploding propellant canisters or faulty ignition switches that prevent them from deploying in an accident, securing a loose wire should be fairly simple to address. Perhaps that's just the optimist in me, and it will still take a pretty decent interval of time to address six years' worth of faulty coupes, but I'll keep my fingers crossed that nobody gets hurt in the meantime.