To address just one type of airbag defect, Toyota has issued recalls for over 1.3 million vehicles. This recall is for replacement of potentially defective Takata airbags that could deactivate during a crash. This is only one of several defects that involve airbags produced by Takata. Overall, some 34 million cars, trucks and motorcycles made by 14 manufacturers are to be recalled globally, in what has become the largest recall ever in automotive history.
Toyota Airbag Recall
Several recalls have been issued to replace Takata airbags that are standard equipment in various Toyota model vehicles. A recent 2016 recall added 1,584,000 additional vehicles in U.S. to a long list of Toyota models that have defective airbags. It is urgent that owners act upon recall notices and get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible.
Dealers will replace airbags at no cost in most recalls, but they have had difficulty obtaining those replacement parts from Takata. Some vehicles have already had airbags replaced, but some of those airbags also have been found to be defective, thus requiring another replacement. Another problem is that many Takata inflators recently produced have also been defective, which is causing additional delays for dealers to receive replacement parts.
Airbag Deployment Failures
As a safety feature on vehicles, airbags have been used to protect vehicle occupants when there is a collision, especially in head-on crashes. They have saved many lives since they first were installed on some models in 1973. By 1998, front airbag installation was made mandatory on all vehicles produced and sold in the United States.
Takata is a major supplier of airbags to the automotive industry. By 2004, their engineers discovered various defects that could render an airbag useless or dangerous. Takata hid that information from safety regulators until 2008, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the first recall for defective airbags.
One type of failure to occur is when the airbag does not deploy properly. They can either deploy prematurely or not at all. In some cases, airbags have activated when there has been no impact, and even when the vehicle was not turned on or moving. In other cases, the airbags did activate, but did so improperly, not fully inflating, collapsing or opening when someone merely leaned on a side door panel. It has been found also that the chemical compositions may react to high humidity and high temperatures, causing airbag malfunctions in regions such as Florida or other coastal states around the Gulf of Mexico.
For proper protection, the airbags must respond almost instantly when there is an impact. They are constructed in such a manner that when a sensor sends a signal to the inflator inside the airbag that there is a collision, that inflator instantly goes into action. The inflator contains two chemicals that mix and create hot hydrogen gas. This hot gas expands the airbag at amazing speeds, up to 100 mph or faster. The expansion blows off any cover that hides the airbag and provides a cushion to protect vehicle occupants from hitting hard objects inside the cab or the steering wheel. If this does not happen, the desired protection will not be provided.
Airbag Failure Injuries
The worst injuries have happened when the airbag inflator has ruptured. The inflator contains the chemical mix, but if the inflator is penetrated by moisture and the inflator does not also contain a chemical drying agent (a desiccant), that moisture may cause the inflator to rupture. This could set off a premature inflation of the airbag or cause the inflator to fracture, sending metal pieces into the vehicle. A vehicle occupant could easily be injured in either situation.
One example is seen in a slow speed accident that happened in April of 2016, in Texas. A young girl was driving a borrowed Honda vehicle when the airbag activated due to the collision. It, however, expanded with such force that the inflator and metal cage around it fractured, sending shrapnel into the air. Several small pieces of that metal stabbed the girl in her neck, in her jugular vein and carotid arteries, causing her death.
When airbags fail to work properly, there can be many types of injuries to vehicle occupants. If the airbag does not inflate or metal fragments puncture it, releasing the gas prematurely, the will be no cushioning effect for protection against hitting hard parts of the vehicle interior. If the airbag expands when there has been no collision, this can also cause injury or an accident when a driver is surprised and hindered by the airbag’s expansion over the steering wheel.
Airbags have vents that allow some gas to escape, so the bag is not so hard that it could cause impact injury to occupants. If this does not happen, the airbag would remain very solid and becomes dangerous, resulting in chest or cardiac area injuries. Facial and eye injuries can happen if the occupant is hit in the face by the airbag. Ear injuries are another concern because of the loud noise made by the explosion of an airbag. To prevent these types of injuries, it is recommended that people sit at least 10 inches away from the hidden airbag areas.
Toyota has issued recalls to owners of several vehicle models that need to get Takata airbags replaced. Existing recalls include the following models.
- 2010-2011 Toyota 4Runner
- 2003-2011 Toyota Corolla
- 2003-2008 Toyota Corolla Matrix
- 2009-2011 Toyota Matrix
- 2004-2005 Toyota Rav4
- 2011 Toyota Sienna
- 2001-2007 Toyota Sequoia
- 2001-2006 Toyota Tundra
- 2006-2011 Toyota Yaris
Newer recalls are out for limited quantities of these models:
- 2014-2015 Toyota Prius V wagons (5,000 vehicles)
- 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Cab and Double Cab trucks (130,000 vehicles)
- 2010-2012 Prius, 2010 and 2012 Prius Plug-In Hybrids, 2011 and 2013 Lexus CT 200h (482,000 vehicles)
- 2016 Avalon (16,880 vehicles)
- 2016 Camry sedans (41,630 vehicles)
In addition to the above recalls, replacement of defective Takata inflators is needed by 2018 for the 2015-2016 Toyota 4-Runner models.
The best way to determine if your Toyota vehicle has a recall issue to resolve is either to contact your dealer or check your VIN number online. The latest recall information from NHTSA and links for VIN number checking is available at these websites: