BMW issues 'do not drive' warning for older models with recalled airbags that may explode

Owners of affected vehicles who have not had their cars inspected and repaired should not consider them safe to drive

BMW has issued a "do not drive" warning to the owners of about 90,000 older models in the U.S. because of defective airbags that might explode in a crash.

The affected vehicles are 2000-2006 model years that have been recalled before due to known issues with Takata-manufactured airbag inflators. However, BMW decided to escalate previous recall notices to a "Do Not Drive" order because the affected vehicles have not been brought in for repairs. 

"Owners of affected BMWs that have not had their vehicles inspected and repaired should not consider them safe to drive," BMW said. The order affects the 2000-2006 BMW 3 Series (E46) models including M3, 2000-2003 5 Series (E39) including M5, and 2000-2004 X5s (E53).

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Takata's airbag inflators used volatile ammonium nitrate to inflate the airbags in a crash. However, the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to heat and humidity and blow apart a metal canister, hurling shrapnel that can injure or kill drivers and passengers.

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The logo of the German car manufacturer BMW is displayed on the headquarters in Munich, Germany, March 21, 2018.

The logo of the German car manufacturer BMW is displayed on the headquarters in Munich March 21, 2018. BMW is warning the owners of about 90,000 older vehicles in the U.S. not to drive them due to an increasing threat that the airbags can explode in (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File / AP Newsroom)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Thursday that owners of affected BMW models should park their cars immediately and contact BMW for more information.

"If you have a model year 2000-2006 BMW with a recalled Takata airbag, get it repaired immediately – for free. These inflators are two decades old now and, with every day that passes, they become even more dangerous as they can rupture even in a minor crash," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman said in a statement.

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A recalled Takata airbag inflator

A recalled Takata airbag inflator removed it from a Honda Pilot is shown at the AutoNation Honda dealership service department in Miami, June 25, 2015. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

Since 2009, the exploding airbags made by Takata have killed at least 33 people worldwide, including 24 in the United States. Most of the deaths and about 400 injuries have happened in U.S., but they also have occurred in Australia and Malaysia.

BMW emphasized that replacement parts are available, and the repairs will be done free of charge. The company said that remote technicians can be sent to wherever the vehicle is located and repairs can be completed on site, typically in under an hour. If remote repair is not available for a customer with an affected vehicle, BMW will have the car picked up at the customer's home or office free of charge, repaired and returned when the service is complete.

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2002 BMW M3 Coupe

Pictured: 2002 BMW M3 Coupe. The "Do Not Drive" order affects the 2000-2006 BMW 3 Series (E46) models including M3, 2000-2003 5 Series (E39) including M5, and 2000-2004 X5s (E53). (National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"We cannot state strongly enough just how urgent it is for our customers to take this warning seriously. We know these airbags only become more dangerous over time, which is why we are taking yet another step to get these parts out of our vehicles. Customers must park these vehicles immediately and take a few moments to check if their vehicle is safe for them and their family members to drive", said Claus Eberhart, vice president of Aftersales BMW NA. 

"Repairing these vehicles is quick, easy to arrange, and is completely free of charge," Eberhart added.

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There are several ways customers can contact BMW to have their vehicles serviced.

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Owners can go to BMW's website to check if their vehicle is affected or call BMW customer relations at (866) 835-8615. NHTSA also has a recall lookup tool on its website.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.