General Motors Co. is recalling almost 800,000 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 compact cars to fix a problem that could prevent the airbags from deploying in a crash.
The automaker said it knows of 22 such accidents, including five in which six people died.
GM said each of those crashes occurred under unusual circumstances in which the cars were being driven across dirt and rough terrain. Neither model was designed to be an off-road vehicle.
"All of these crashes occurred off-road and at high speeds, where the probability of serious or fatal injuries was high regardless of airbag deployment. In addition, failure to wear seat belts and alcohol use were factors in some of these cases," GM said in a statement.
The recall involves 619,122 Cobalts and G5 cars sold in the U.S. from the 2005-2007 model years. The remainder sold in Canada and Mexico.
The problem involves in an incorrectly manufactured key ignition switch.
GM said an unusually heavy key ring or key chain can pull the key into the "accessory" or "off" position on the switch if the car hits a big bump. That turns off the engine and most of the electrical components on the vehicle, including features such as power steering, power-assisted brakes and the airbags.
GM will fix the problem by having dealers replace the ignition switch. Meanwhile, drivers should just use the key by itself to operate the car.
The automaker discontinued production of both cars years ago.
This was the second large recall by an automaker this week.
On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp. recalled almost 1 million cars sold in the U.S. to fix software glitches.
The recalls included about 700,000 of its popular Prius hybrid from the 2010 to 2014 model years to fix a software problem that causes the car to stall.
The Japanese automaker also said it would recall about 260,000 2012 RAV4s, 2012-13 Tacomas and 2012-13 Lexus RX350 models to fix an electronic circuit condition that can cause the vehicle stability control, antilock brake and traction control functions to turn off intermittently.
Not even two months into 2014, the auto industry is on pace to recall more cars this year than last.
The manufacturers recalled almost 22 million cars last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was 34% higher than the previous year and the most since 30.8 million vehicles were recalled in 2004, according to the agency.