Federal auto regulators are investigating 2016-2018 Subaru Forester vehicles in response to complaints that the passenger airbags and the sensors that detect seat occupancy are failing.

In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that it received at least 51 complaints of the problem, but a review of the agency’s data shows that it has received dozens more reports of the airbag defect in September.

Drivers say that the “passenger airbag off” alert on the dashboard illuminates when it shouldn’t. At least one Subaru Forester driver says that the defect left vehicle occupants unprotected in a crash, resulting in injuries.

“I was in an accident in which a car t-boned my passenger side. No airbags deployed and we suffered injury as a result,” a driver from Clifton, Virginia, reported to NHTSA on Aug. 31. “The other car that hit us had all airbags deployed … The accident occurred while I was in motion going 40 mph and a car hit me after running a red light going 45 mph.”

Some drivers said the passenger airbag-off indicator illuminated whenever the passenger sat on a cushion or when the seats were covered in towels or blankets when traveling with dogs.

Still other passengers indicate that the airbag warning turned on for no reason, sometimes permanently.

“Passenger detection system to turn on airbag has been intermittent since shortly after purchasing. Will turn off passenger airbag with an adult present in the seat, or not turn it on initially. Now it is almost always off at some point in a driving experience. The system acknowledges the presence of a passenger because it gives a warning on the display that it needs service but it leaves airbag off anyway. I believe it has been too long waiting for parts for a safety system problem,” another consumer reported to NHTSA.

Besides the malfunction, other common complaints among Subaru Forester drivers are about the explanation for the failed airbag sensor and the repair time. Several Subaru drivers said their dealership told them replacement parts were on backorder. Some said they were told that the sensor malfunctioned because of a spill or wet seat when no there was never such a problem. Many said they parked their cars for months for fear of the lack of airbag protection.

Although NHTSA’s investigation covers more than 554,000 2016-2018 Subaru Forester SUVs, many drivers of 2014 and 2015 model vehicles have complained of the same safety issue.

Beasley Allen lawyer Clay Barnett, who works in the firm’s Atlanta office, investigates potential class action litigation related to auto defects. Lawyers in the Atlanta office also investigate personal injury claims related to auto products liability, including airbags, seat belts, seat backs, roof crush and other defective products.

Additional sources:
The Detroit News
CNET Road/Show

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