Heaven forbid you’re cruising down the road in your new car and discover at the worst possible time that the passenger side airbag is inoperable. To avoid having its customers suffer that fate, Nissan is recalling thousands of vehicles across several model lines. The automaker filed a document with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on 13 March indicating its plans to have drivers of 2013 model year Altimas, Pathfinders, Sentras, the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, and the JX35 crossover SUV (from the automaker’s Infiniti luxury marque) bring them into dealers to have them inspected.
Nissan told NHTSA that the problem stems from improperly made sensors that are part of the occupant detection system that tells the airbag whether or not the passenger seat is empty—or that the passenger is a child or small adult, in which case it shouldn't fire because they might be seriously injured by the force of the bag inflating. The sensors are, in other words, essential to the airbag's do-no-harm mandate, a flawed sensor may improperly indicate that the airbag's deployment conditions have been met.
According to an article in USA Today, Nissan says it discovered the problem at its Tennessee manufacturing plant, where some vehicles rolling off of assembly lines had airbag warning lights illuminated.
Here's another thing you don't want happening as you cruise down the highway: sudden braking without your having pressed the pedal, or hard braking when you intend only to slow down slightly.
Within a day of Nissan’s recall announcement, Honda revealed that it is recalling nearly a quarter million vehicles because of an electrical problem that causes those very conditions. Honda was pushed into issuing the recall after a NHTSA investigative report said the likely culprit of the unintended braking is an electrical capacitor [pdf] that causes the brake assist feature of Honda cars’ stability control system to randomly kick in. Brake assist, a safety feature intended to reduce stopping distance in emergency braking situations, is integrated with traction and stability control, which selectively apply torque and braking to each of the vehicle’s wheels.
According to USA Today, the NHTSA investigation was initiated after the owner and former driver of a 2005 Honda Pilot SUV petitioned the agency. Carrie Caravalho told USA Today that in October 2011, she was driving the vehicle at 45 miles per hour (72 k/h) when it started braking and the steering wheel seized up. After it happened a second time, she parked the car and never drove it again. Caravalho was upset that although neither the dealership where she purchased the car nor Honda would fix the problem, she was still on the hook for her monthly car payment.
Now, not only does Honda have to fix Caravalho’s vehicle, but also 183 000 others in the United States alone. The affected Honda Pilots and Acura MDXs and RLs are overwhelmingly, like Caravalho’s, from the 2005 model year. About 800 MDXs of 2008 vintage are part of the recall as well.
Here's another thing you don't want happening: your car starting up seemingly at random.
A week ago Subaru issued a recall to deal with an electronic problem that could cause a vehicle to start up without the owner even being aware of it. The 2010 to 2013 model year Subaru Legacy sedans and Outback SUVs, 2012 and 2013 Imprezas, and 2013 XV Crosstrek SUVs that use an Audiovox key fob to activate the remote start feature could find their engines turning on, running for as much as 15 minutes, then shutting off. Why? If the key fob is dropped, it could continuously send the start signal—in some cases, until its battery is depleted or the vehicle runs out of fuel. That represents a particular hazard if the vehicle is parked indoors, where carbon monoxide from the tailpipe could build up to hazardous levels. And of course, even outside, at today's gas prices, who needs to run through a tankful while standing still? At least for this recall, you don't even have to bring your car in. Subaru says dealers will replace the Audiovox key fobs free of charge.
Willie Jones is an associate editor at IEEE Spectrum. In addition to editing and planning daily coverage, he manages several of Spectrum's newsletters and contributes regularly to the monthly Big Picture section that appears in the print edition.