NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation opened the probe [PDF
] into the vehicles after receiving nine consumer complaints alleging airbag failures.
The consumer reports indicated that failures occurred during normal driving conditions and were sometimes accompanied by an audible noise from the steering column. In some cases, the airbag error light on the dash was activated.
“Upon pulling out of my driveway and turning the steering wheel there was a cracking noise and then the airbag light went off with an airbag warning,” one complaint from January 2015 reads. “At which point all mechanisms within the steering wheel stopped working.”
According to a chronology [PDF
] filed with NHTSA, Volkswagen knew about the issue several years before NHTSA initiated its investigation.
The company received its first report of issues with the airbags back in December 2011. An initial evaluation in May 2012 found a low failure rate and no impact on vehicle safety.