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US reviews problem with vehicles’ side air bags

DETROIT - Federal safety regulators are investigating a problem with side air bags that may fail to inflate in a crash.

The problem already has caused recalls of more than 2,700 Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and Nissan vehicles, but that number could grow if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determines that more automakers used similar defective parts.

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The recalled vehicles could have an ineffective mixture of the gas that inflates the side curtain air bags in a crash. That mix could mean air bags on one or both sides of the cars won’t inflate, increasing the risk of injury, the agency said in documents posted on its website. So far no one has been hurt.

All four companies with recalled vehicles told NHTSA that the Americas unit of Swedish safety parts maker Autoliv Inc. made the inflators for the air bags. Documents detailing the probe were posted on NHTSA’s website last weekend.

Autoliv told NHTSA in a letter that it shipped a total of about 10,500 of the problem inflators to automakers and two other air bag makers. In addition to the four companies that have announced recalls, the parts went to Chrysler Group, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Kia Motors America, and Suzuki Motor Corp.

Spokesmen for Chrysler, GM, and Ford said their air bag inflators are designed differently than other manufacturers and have not failed in extensive testing, so they do not expect any recalls. A message was left for the spokesman at Kia. Suzuki said it could not comment because NHTSA hasn’t notified the company about the problem yet.

Autoliv said yesterday that the problem occurred one time in production parts tests at minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit. But further tests indicated a risk of malfunctions at low temperatures, spokesman Mats Odman wrote in an e-mail.

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