At least one unlucky driver of a 2012 Hyundai Elantra has claimed his ear was sliced in half following the deployment of his side airbag. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration looked into the incident, and while it did not issue a recall, it has expanded its investigation to include all fifth-generation (2011 through 2013 model years) Elantra sedans.
According to the NHTSA's website, an Elantra driver suffered a severe laceration to the ear after the vehicle's side-curtain air bags deployed. It seems that during a car accident, a metal bracket that acts to stiffen the headliner detached from the car and hit the driver.
NHTSA's investigation summary describes a photo provided by the driver showing "a metal component protruding from the left edge of the headliner above the driver's seat". The driver's complaint states that the "drivers [sic] side air bag delpoyed [sic] and metal bracket deployed with air bag from headliner area also and sliced my ear in half…could have been neck".
NHTSA opened its investigation on May 10, 2012. According to a statement from Hyundai's Miles Johnson acquired by the Detroit Free Press, the automaker hasn't received any similar complaints, but Hyundai is cooperating fully with NHTSA's investigation.
The airbag defect issue could potentially be widespread. As of April 30, 2012, Hyundai had sold 247,598units of the popular Elantra in 2011 and 2012.
However, according to a report on The Detroit News; this bracket is only used on Elantra models built in South Korea and not those built at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) in Montgomery, Alabama. The number of Korean versus American Hyundais distributed in the United States is unclear.
Hyundai performed tests in an attempt to replicate the airbag issue in the above-referenced incident; and while it did get the bracket to detach in one test, the piece of metal allegedly didn't separate in a manner that could injure an occupant.
We will continue to watch for more investigative reports regard this vehicle and its side curtain airbags. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed by a defective airbag or other automobile part, you should contact a law firm with experience.