The Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 is supposed to be a rough-and-tumble, body-on-frame, solid rear axle-having pickup that can handle off-road trails with ease. And yet, a number of trucks’ airbags are deploying on mild off-road trails, leaving owners with major hassles. Here’s what’s going on.
Back in May, a reader sent to Jalopnik, an independente source of auto information, a tip about Chevrolet Colorado airbags deploying off-road. “As a ZR2 owner myself, I am very concerned about taking my truck off pavement now,” he told us after reading various complaints on owner forums. I started looking into it.
Then, this past Saturday, a Pennsylvania truck driver named Matt Gotowchikow posted a video onto Facebook showing the off-road variant of the Colorado—the big, bad ZR2—popping its side curtain airbags while navigating what appears to be a relatively mild trail.
At about 13 seconds into the video, the slow-traveling truck produces a loud pop, and a voice is heard screaming, shocked from the explosive airbag deployment—a deployment whose timing doesn’t appear to correspond with any particularly troublesome obstacle on the trail.
I reached out to Matt over the phone to learn about what happened. He told me that he was at an off-road fundraiser for autism in Pottsville, Pennsylvania in his two-door 2011 Jeep Wrangler, when traffic started to slow. The group in front of him was having trouble traversing one of the most difficult obstacles on the relatively mild “advanced green” trail; particularly, the white Chevy ZR2 was struggling to find the right line up and over a rock.
So Matt and his group stepped out of their rigs, and walked up the path to observe the truck attempt the climb. “This was like the third or fourth [attempt], and I said ‘you know what, I’m gonna video this,’” Matt told me.
So he did. That’s when the apparently stock Chevy Colorado ZR2 bumped its way over the rock, and was home free. At least, that’s what it seemed like until the vehicle traveled farther up the incline. “They’re almost to a stop, and you can hear the pop, and you see the airbag come down, and you hear the girl scream,” Matt said.
“After that, the first thing I heard was OnStar was calling them to make sure they were okay.” Describing what caused the airbag to go, Matt told me: “No jarring, no bump or any impact of any type [triggered it]. It was just very bizarre.”Asked about the spate of similar Chevy Colorado airbag deployment complaints, a Chevrolet spokesperson said: “We are aware of this situation happening on rare occasions. The reason it would occur is that head-curtain airbags are designed to deploy if the sensing system predicts that the vehicle is about to roll on its side.“
But owners say that runs counter to the off-roading this truck’s supposed to be capable of.
After talking with Matt, I was able to get in touch with the truck’s owner, David Kostura, who confirmed Matt’s account, and sent me the photo above with the description “I’m heartbroken.”
While Kostura admitted that he perhaps should have driven his gas 2018 Colorado ZR2 with 2,700 miles on the clock more slowly, he said the trail seemed fairly mild, particularly in the section where the airbags deployed. He guesses that was only about a six to seven degree incline.
“[The airbag] should have went off milliseconds after the truck responded to the biggest rock that you do see in that video,” he said.
A lifelong GM customer, Kostura is upset, and wants GM to pay to fix the now locked-up seat belts, the damaged headliner, and the airbags. But, after reading about similar incidents online, he’s concerned that this won’t happen.
“If they’re going to try and weasel their way out of this, I really don’t want anything to do with the truck anymore,” he told me over the phone, clearly bothered by the fact that this happened to a truck heavily marketed as a hard-core off-roader.
He says his vehicle is currently at the dealership being assessed by a third party hired by GM.
It’s also worth noting that the Chevrolet Colorado isn’t the only vehicle that has had such an issue. Nissan truck owners have been complaining about airbags deploying off-road for years (here’s a video showing it happen on an Xterra).
In the end, Nissan started a service campaign for 2004 to 2014 Titans, 2005 to 2014 Frontiers and 2005 to 2014 Xterras to have their Airbag Contol Units recalibrated free of charge, and refunds given to people who had to replace their airbags because of unintended deployment.