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US opens investigation of air bag ruptures in 1.1M older-model vehicles from 5 automakers

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DETROIT - U.S. safety regulators are investigating whether 1.1 million vehicles from five automakers have air bags that could hurt people in a crash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it opened the probe Wednesday after getting six reports of air bags rupturing. Three people were hurt when struck by air bags or parts, but the injuries were not life-threatening. Ruptured air bags also don't protect people in crashes.

Vehicles from the 2002 through 2006 model years made by Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler and Toyota are being investigated.

All have air bags made by parts supplier Takata Corp., which is based in Japan. Takata said Wednesday it is co-operating in the investigation.

NHTSA said that starting in August of last year, it received complaints of air bags rupturing from drivers of a Honda Civic, a Toyota Corolla and a Mazda 6. Takata reported complaints from drivers of a Nissan Sentra and Dodge Charger, according to NHTSA documents.

The safety agency says all the incidents happened in Florida or Puerto Rico where humidity is high.

The agency said several manufacturers recently have recalled vehicles for rupturing air bags, and it's now investigating to find out what other vehicles have the same inflators.

In one complaint last August, a Honda driver's lawyer told NHTSA that the car was in a crash, and both driver and passenger air bags inflated. The driver's air bag inflator ruptured "and propelled a one-inch piece of shrapnel into the driver's right eye." The driver lost sight and suffered cuts requiring 100 stitches to close, the complaint said.

On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp. said it would recall 2.27 million vehicles worldwide to fix similar problems with front passenger air bag inflators. Around 2.14 million of the cars were recalled last year for a similar problem but the fix was incomplete.

The company, the world's biggest automaker, said the initial recall was based on incomplete serial numbers from Takata.

The inflators contained improperly made propellant that could cause them to work abnormally, and possibly cause fires, in a crash. Toyota said it had received one report of a burn on a seat cover from faulty air bag deployment.

The recall involves about 20 Toyota models, including some Corolla compacts and Tundra pickups made in 2003-2004 and some 2002-2004 Lexus SC 430 coupes made in the U.S. The models being recalled in Japan were made in 2000-2003.

In April 2013, Toyota, Honda Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. recalled nearly 3.4 million older-model vehicles worldwide due to the potential problem with the air bags.

Among the vehicles affected by the recall are 380,000 Toyota vehicles that were inspected after that recall but did not receive new air bag inflators. Toyota now plans to replace them.

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