Volkswagen is recalling 26,040 Audi vehicles in Canada and another 144,092 in the United States to fix malfunctioning passenger-side airbag occupant sensors, according to Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top auto safety regulators in both countries.
The recalls, issued July 24, cover certain 2018 Audi S4, S5 and A5 vehicles along with some 2017-2018 A4s.
Oxidation on the connecting cable of the passenger occupant detection system can cause software to fail to detect occupants and disable the passenger airbag, the recall said.
"With an adult in the passenger seat a warning message says that because of a malfunction, the airbags are turned off," the owner of a 2017 Audi A4 wrote May 2 in a complaint to U.S. NHTSA. "A few seconds to a minute or two later another message says the airbags are on. This sequence can appear many times in an hour of driving or not appear at all for several days."
His dealer told him the airbags "really are off" when the warning notification appears, the Audi owner wrote in the complaint.
"The recall is in response to an oversensitivity of the passenger occupant detection system (PODS) connecting cable in the instance of a partial surface oxidation of the electrical shielding in the cable harness," the statement said. "If this happens, the PODS will detect a malfunction and switch off the passenger airbag even though the seat may be occupied.
"As designed, a warning light in the instrument panel comes on together with a warning sound and an error message is displayed in the instrument cluster," the statement said. "The airbag indicator light shows 'passenger airbag off.' If this happens, customers are advised to contact an authorized Audi dealer to have the vehicle inspected/repaired without delay."
The manufacturer of the malfunctioning PODS, IEE of Luxembourg, did not respond to requests for comment.
Volkswagen Canada said it will notify owners by mail and instruct them to take their vehicle to a dealer to update the airbag control unit software.