Back in April of last year, Nissan recalled nearly a million vehicles in the 2013-2014 model years due to a defect in the front passenger airbag system which could prevent the front passenger airbag from engaging. The problem was a combination of factors, most relating to the control unit that determines whether or not an adult is sitting in the seat, engaging the airbag system and disengaging the passenger-side airbag when the seat is empty or occupied by a person too small for it to safely operate. The recall, which we reported on at the time, was big news, but was drowned out by the myriad of recalls for airbag defects that hit the industry as Takata systems were found to be defective and even dangerous.
Now, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the recall efforts Nissan did last year after several complaints about the fix not being a remedy for the problem have been issued. Both consumers and Nissan dealerships in their standard reporting have said that the passenger airbag recall and repairs may not have been effective. For some consumers, the problem of the inactive passenger's airbag persists as the light indicating the disabled airbag stays illuminated even when an adult sits in the seat. Dealerships, who repair warranty claims, have sometimes reported that the problem persists even after recommended recall and other repairs from Nissan are made.
The NHTSA reports that 124 complaints have been issued after the recall was complete, all on vehicles serviced under the recall last year. The occupant classification system (OCS) continues to be a problem in some vehicles. The NHTSA is investigating to determine whether Nissan should be required to issue another recall and fix.
During the recall last year, Nissan blamed “a combination of factors such as high engine vibration at idle when the seat is initially empty and then becomes occupied, or unusual occupant seating postures immediately upon being seated.” The recall actually began in 2013 with several thousand Altima, LEAF, Sentra, and Pathfinder vehicles being subject to recall for a similar problem. This resulted in changes to the Nissan production line's implementation of the OCS in new vehicles made after October 2013 to February 2014 before a new software calibration was implemented again in mid-February. That change prompted the recall of vehicles made before that point with the older OCS systems, totaling about 989,000 in all.
Owners of Nissan vehicles that have been recalled for this issue should check their system. Does the passenger airbag light illuminate when a person is sitting in the front passenger's seat? If it indicates that the seat is empty and/or the airbag is disabled, despite someone of 100 or more pounds being in the chair, you may have a problem - even if it's intermittent. Even if the vehicle is outside of its warranty, a Nissan dealer will likely look at and perhaps fix the issue (if they can). Be sure that if you do have this issue, a report is lodged with the NHTSA regarding it. More reports mean better diagnostics and data, which means a better likelihood of a sure fix being made.
Although reporting is sketchy on the issue and Nissan has yet to issue an official statement, the problem seems to be affecting far fewer vehicles than it was last year.