A recall for 200,000 North American BMW vehicles with potentially malfunctioning airbags was revealed today in a bulletin by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The bulletin states the affected vehicles include: 2004 and 2005 5-series sedans, 2004-2006 X3 SUVs and a portion of the 2006 model year 3-series cars.

The problem involves a passenger-side unit that may not deploy during an accident. Clearly a serious issue, the company has chosen to perform a full recall on all vehicles fitted with the possibly defective units. The decision must have been a difficult one for the carmaker, however, as 200,000 cars represents about two-thirds of its annual sales figures in the U.S., meaning the recall will affect about 15% of the company's total customer base since 2004.

The airbag sensors are not defective from the factory, but rather the problem is caused by wear from passenger entry and exit, reports CNN. The malfunction arises when the passenger seat occupancy sensor is effectively cut off from the rest of the system, causing the passenger side airbag to deactivate - which is itself a safety feature designed to protect small children and infants in child seats from the force of the exploding airbags.

In addition to repairing all damaged units, BMW is extending the warranty on affected vehicles to a full 10 years from first purchase, with no mileage limits. Vehicles included in the expanded warranty coverage include the 2006 6-series and 3-series, the 2004-2005 Z4, the 2004-2006 7-series the 2006 X5 and the 2004-2006 5-series. The coverage is limited to replacement of the defective occupant detection system, which will be performed at no charge to the vehicle owner.