Unintended airbag deployment in a VW Jetta

Of course, there is no obligation to report any kind of safety defect to NHTSA.

However, reporting defects of this sort falls under the category of being a responsible citizen.
If you don’t feel a need to help protect your fellow citizens from both safety hazards and needless repair costs, that is fine.

I do not want to let a car manufacturer walk away from its responsibility to provide a safe and reliable product to consumers. If consumers had not reported unintended acceleration problems with their Toyotas to NHTSA, it would have taken Toyota even longer to actually begin to rectify a defect of which they were aware. If you feel differently about this topic, so be it, but I doubt that many of the regulars on this board would agree with you.

The OP’s description is not crystal clear to me. It might be that just the side curtain and seat side air bags deployed, instead of the front passenger air bag. If so, then it’s possible that the module did fire those bags (and not the driver ones) because due to some defect it thought that there was a right side impact, not a front impact.

Yes, the SRS has fail-safe design features, but climate controls are not critical to safety, and so do not.

Update: The dealer ran the diagnostic test. The system contained a crash signal indicating a left (passengers side) impact. Techs and service mgr who inspected car and conducted diagnostic test agree there is no physical evidence of a side impact – except the aforementioned crash signal. Suggested the crash sensor under the passenger side floor may have sensed an impact from road debris of perhaps even a pothole. I responded that if that’s the case, could that be as designed? Think about it. If driving over potholes or encountering random rocks/gravel/etc. in the roadway striking a sensor on the underside of the car could result in deployment of the side airbags, surely Jetta side airbags would be popping with great regularity. VWOA has weighed-in and asked to keep the car for further analysis until Tuesday (5/11). Corporate rep with whom I spoke yesterday indicated VWOA is considering covering the repair, but first must rule-out the possibility of a collision. So far so good. I guess.

Troubling possibility of a Catch 22 however. If VW ultimtely rules system operated as designed because of a collision and thus won’t repair that’s one thing. Problem will be convincing my insurance company to fix it under my comprehensive or collision coverage if they deem there is no visible evidence of a collision. Bottomline: $4500 to repair. Actual cash value of this 2003 Jetta is $4500.00. Thus, from an insurance perspective, this airbag deployment will have totalled the car. What a mess! But on a positive note, and the most important thing here, my daughter didn’t crash when the darn thing blew.

Did They Give You Something To Drive ? FYI: Passenger’s Side = Right Side.

Mea culpa. I meant the passenger side (right) side floor sensor. And no, nothing to drive. I reasoned there was no sense quibbling over that at this point. Fortunately, my daughter is on an out-of-town trip until Monday evening, thus she doesn’t need the car now anyway.

Update: VWOA is still conducting their analysis. On a positive note, they have furnished my daughter a car to drive until they are finished.

Maybe a hard curb strike could have done it. No body damage at all; wheels and suspension another story altogether.

Good news! I was just advised by VWOA’s representative they are covering this very costly repair as a good will gesture. I am delighted, and happy to know there are still automakers out there who will do the right thing…even 100,000 miles later and long after the warranty period.

Thanks for all the inputs. And, for the reoord, I did file the incident with NHTSA as many of you suggested.

That’s Good News. Did They Say What Caused It And If They Have Any Modification To Lessen The Chance That It Could Happen Again ? Are They Admitting Any Fault On Their Part ?

After looking at the TSB, I have to think that your’s wasn’t the only VW to self-deploy an air bag.

It’s difficult to drive wearing a football helmet and face guard.


I think I’d want them to inspect/replace the side impact sensors on the driver’s side too. Imagine if that side had gone off…

You must draw the line somewhere as a very good case could be made that until the actual cause of the deployment is determined (something that never may be happen) the car is unsafe to drive.Or are you just suggesting that Herr Guttslussel just give the car a 10 min look over and if nothing is obvious ,roll on?

Should every circuit track on every PCB be subjected to microscopic inspection, should every piece of every harness be visualy inspected? myself I think accepting that a system in your car that is designed to protect may fail and make things worse is part of the good that most always comes with such a system.

Perhaps VOA should be required to open their books and tell all in what they have doucmented in regards to unintended airbag deployment,and let the customer decide if they even want an active airbag system in their car.

My suggestion is that if they could identify a fault with the right crash sensor, then the left one (that was probably manufactured at the same time and place) should be checked for the same fault or just replaced. I design electronic boards and when one fails in an unexpected way, I go around and check as many similar ones as possible looking for the same fault. Sometimes its a one off thing, other times it can be a manufacturing issue that’s present on every board made that day.

Thank you, ZW.
I accept your abject apology.

If this was a manufacturing defect we would have seen the failure quite soon after being put into service (remember the “bathtub” curve) now if this is caused by some material bridging circuit tracks (which does happen) you can check them all or just the one.

Myself I would like to see a theory of just how this could happen and direct my limited investigative resources in that direction.

In short, in theory how can a unintended airbag activation happen (and not in general,specific wires touching ground or B+ or what exact failure in a module could cause this) the theory part is we don’t need to explain why this happened just how it could happen. After we explain what conditions must exist we can move on too how they came to be.

This explaination is not going to come from a Dealer level mechanic.

All I know, is based on the documents I reviewed available thru NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation online, of over 500 reported incidents of spontaneous air bag deployemnt in VW Jettas of this car’s vintage, they have all been on the right (passengers side)involving only the side curtain system.

Therefore, we’ll roll the dice on any further spontaneous airbag deployments involving the left (drivers side).

I also feel, given VW’s insistence they repaired it as a good will gesture only, and would not put anything in writing as to causation or fault, they probably know they have a problem and just deal with it as people present. Think about it, most people who experience this may not be very persistent. You can read yourself all the folks here who felt appealing to VW on an old car like this was likely a tilting at windmills. The dealer was darn helpful too BTW, and he’s even promised to cover our rental car if the repair takes longer than they expect.

Anyway, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, we’ll accept VW’s offer on its face and get on with our lives.

Quite a bit of interesting information. 500 unintended airbag deployments all dealing with the same airbag and no pressure from NHTSA to find the cause.

It’s great that they’re going to cover this for you under a Good Will warranty. My feeling is that they would not nor should they at that age and mileage.
However, they likely have several reasons for doing it.

One is that you’re the original owner. That does carry some weight.

Two is that the bean counters and legal staff have weighed the potential cost of a lawsuit against the actual cost of doing this repair under a Good Will warranty.
The cost of that repair to you may have been 4500 dollars but the real world cost of that repair to VW of America is far, far less.
Labor warranty reimbursement rates to the dealer are less, the warranty labor times are less, and most importantly, the “real” cost of the SRS parts will come into play.

Just had almost the same exact thing happen with my '02 Jetta (158k miles). I know the miles are higher, but let me tell you that it’s just spooky when the bag goes off for no good reason! Any advice on how to spin it with the dealer?

Why deal directly with the dealer?
If I were you, I would phone VW of America, and while keeping things civil, I would state exactly what happened and I would also state that I am aware of ~500 instances of the same occurrence, as reflected on the NHTSA website.

Since this is a known problem, ask the VW folks if they will cover the cost of this repair on your car. If they refuse, then ask if they will at least assist you with expenses. If they still refuse, ask for the name and address of their staff member to whom all legal correspondence should be directed, and give this information to your attorney.

Whether VWOA pays for this repair or not, once you have repaired the problem, I would suggest that you dump this car a.s.a.p. The electrical problems on this car will just keep getting worse as it ages, and you will likely wind up with huge repair costs if you keep the car.