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Audi Recall for Airbag Issue Expands

Niel Stender

The Audi recall issued in 2019, for a problem with the passenger airbag sensor across the A3 lineup, has been expanded to include nearly 292,00 vehicles.

An Ongoing Audi Recall

An expanded Audi recall has been issued around an ongoing problem with the passenger airbag in the A3 lineup. The sensor for detecting a passenger is malfunctioning, which can cause the airbag to switch off. In the event of an accident, that lack of deployment could increase the risk of injury.

2015 Audi A3 - carsforsale.com
2015 Audi A3 - carsforsale.com

This latest recall covers a little more than 153,000 A3 models in addition to the nearly 139,000 pulled in 2019. The model year breakdown between both recalls is as follows:

  • A3 Sedan 2015-2020: 234,659 vehicles
  • A3 Cabriolet 2015-2019: 23,144 vehicles
  • A3 e-tron 2016-2018: 19,196 vehicles
  • S3 2015-2016: 8,077 vehicles
  • RS3 2017-2020: 6,793 vehicles

The Original Recall Issue

In the initial 2019 Safety Recall Report filed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 100% of the A3s were produced with this issue. No estimate was given with the most recent 2021 report.

2015 Audi A3 interior - carsforsale.com
2015 Audi A3 interior - carsforsale.com

In early 2019, Audi began investigating field reports of defective Passenger Occupant Detection System (PODS) sensors. Located under the passenger seat, the PODS should detect weight of an occupant and keep their airbag switched on. For lightweight passengers, this sensor will instruct the airbag to switch off to avoid injuring them in the event of a crash.

At the time, Audi’s Product Safety Committee learned that a widening of the plug-in contacts at the connector could lead to sporadically loose connections. This could cause a poor connection of the electrical contacts, which in turn could cause the PODS to read a malfunction. In that situation, the system will automatically shut the passenger airbag off.

Audi illuminated passenger airbag indicator - carsforsale.com
Audi illuminated passenger airbag indicator - carsforsale.com

Per Audi’s design, if this sensor malfunctions, a warning light will illuminate in the gauge cluster along with an audible alarm and error message. As well, the “Passenger Airbag OFF” indicator light will activate. Owners have been instructed to take their A3 to a dealership for inspection if this happens.

How the Audi Recall is Being Handled

2018 Audi RS3 - carsforsale.com
2018 Audi RS3 - carsforsale.com

To remedy the original problem in 2019, Audi installed a more robust PODS connection point and optimized routing of the cable. Specifically, the cable was rerouted to avoid sharp bends thereby relieving any preload or side force on the connector. However, in February of 2020, the US market began reporting cases of the same malfunctioning sensor on A3 models not included in the first recall campaign.

Audi Q5 versus Porsche Macan

The latest Audi recall was submitted to NHTSA on March 22, 2021 and outlined the chronology of this issue along with the additional vehicles being added to the list. Unfortunately, Audi has been unable to determine the root cause of the problem. While implementing the repair in 2019, they continued to test and analyze parts from the field. That investigation took place form September 2020 to February 2021 but could not replicate the issue, so was deemed inconclusive.

2018 Audi A3 - carsforsale.com
2018 Audi A3 - carsforsale.com

As a result, owners of affected A3s will be notified in May of the situation, but there is not currently a remedy in place. Once the program to fix the defect is in place, Audi will send a second mailed notice with details to owners. Audi is not aware of accidents or injuries related to this recall but recommends not using the passenger seat if the warnings noted above are observed.

Audi will be required to submit six consecutive quarterly reports to NHTSA on the status of this recall. These reports can be viewed by visiting NHTSA.gov, searching for your A3 model and reviewing the recall section. Owners can contact Audi Customer Service at 800-253-2834 with questions. They can also enter their 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number into the SafeCar.gov site for detail on any open recalls.

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Niel Stender
Niel Stender

Niel got his start in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer with SVT at Ford. He still has dreams of running figure eights on the wet pad in an S197 GT500. These days, when not fending off karate kicks from the 3 tiny humans that run his household, he can be found on St. Louis backroads pretending to be Ken Block in his 6-speed Mazda 6.

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