Active Head Restraints Deploy Without Warning

Key Points

  • Dodge active head restraints are randomly deploying like there's been a collision.
  • A cheap plastic bracket holding the AHR in place breaks under prolonged pressure.
  • Dodge has been named in a class-action lawsuit questioning their design.
A Dodge head restraint
Posted on
Scott McCracken
#interior #lawsuit

In a rear-end collision, active head restraints push forward to reduce the amount of space an occupant's head can move. It's sort of like an airbag for the back of your head (minus the bag part).

Recently, Dodge owners have been reporting that their active head restraints (AHR) are deploying without any collision. And as you can imagine it can be quite startling to be smacked in the back of your head by your seat as you try to navigate traffic.

Inadvertent Head Restraint Deployments

Unlike most modern issues in your car, this is not a sensor failure, electrical glitch, or poorly written software. This is a cheap part breaking into pieces and wreaking havoc, you know – just like the good ole' days.

Image of AHR after deployment from the law firm of Kershaw Cook & Talley

FCA is facing heat for using a cheap plastic bracket to secure the pin that holds the AHR in place. The plastic is busting apart under the prolonged tension, releasing the pin and deploying the AHR into unsuspecting heads.

Resetting an AHR is possible, if it isn't broken

FCA has been known to blame the whole ordeal on poor maintenance which is one of the more ludicrous things we've heard. Is everyone keeping up on their recommended head restraint maintenance? No? Of course you're not because there's no such thing.

FCA also points out that the AHR can be reset by an owner. And yeah, unlike an airbag it is possible. That is, if the plastic inside hasn't shattered into pieces.

Owners who have had to repair or replace their AHR say it costs upwards of $800.

Class-action lawsuit filed in Florida

In January of 2019, a proposed class-action was filed in Florida blaming FCA for using defective plastic brackets to hold the AHR in place and making owners pay to replace them, even under warranty.

The lawsuit specifically mentions the Dodge Avenger and Jeep Cherokee as vehicles which see that bracket failure.

The allegedly defective piece of plastic holds a short metal rod that is latched into two metal hooks located on the back of the headrest. Those hooks are attached to a sensor that triggers the hooks on the front and back of the headrest when a crash occurs._ 
The whole system is in prolonged tension, and the plastic simply can’t handle the stress over time. It also doesn’t show any outward signs of trouble before breaking.

AHR Systems Have Been Recalled for Module Problems Before

This isn’t the first time FCA’s AHR has been in the news. Back in 2013, the Liberty was part of a head restraint recall for 500,000 vehicles due to _ faulty microcontrollers … that could cause the system to fail._

In 2017 the Liberty was recalled again after an internal investigation revealed the occupant restraint control modules can degrade over time.

Neither of these recalls were serious. In the same way a broken escalator just becomes a set of stairs, a busted module just removed the active part and turned them into a normal set of head restraints until repairs could be made.

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Dodge generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

  1. 2nd Generation Avenger

    47th of 54
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Avenger
  2. 1st Generation Caliber

    45th of 54
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Caliber
  3. 3rd Generation Durango

    35th of 54
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Durango
  4. 1st Generation Journey

    46th of 54
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Journey
  5. 1st Generation Nitro

    33rd of 54
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Nitro

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA