Toyota has urgently warned owners of nearly 53,000 older vehicles in the U.S. to stop driving them immediately due to potentially deadly defects with Takata airbag inflators that could cause them to explode and shoot sharp metal fragments inside the vehicle.
The “do not drive” advisory affects certain 2001-2003 model year Corolla compact sedans, 2002-2003 Sequoia SUVs, 2002-2003 Tundra pickup trucks, 2003 Matrix hatchbacks, and 2002-2003 Lexus SC 430 luxury coupes sold primarily in warm weather states.
Urgent Repairs Needed Before Vehicles Can Return to Road
Toyota says the vehicles should be parked outdoors until repair parts become available, which could take several months due to supply chain issues and the large number of affected vehicles. Dealers will then replace either the front passenger or driver airbag inflator with new ones at no cost.
“This is an urgent safety issue and all involved vehicles must have their airbags replaced as soon as parts become available,” Toyota said in a statement.
“If the ignition switch is accidentally hit and rotated to the ‘ON’ position, the airbags may deploy increasing the risk of injury or crash.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating Takata airbags for years due to concerns that ammonium nitrate propellant can become unstable after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity. If it ignites too quickly, the explosion can blow apart the inflator casing causing jagged steel fragments to spray occupants.
At least 30 deaths worldwide have been linked to faulty Takata airbag inflators rupturing in various automakers’ vehicles, including 19 U.S. fatalities. Hundreds more have suffered serious injuries ranging from facial trauma to loss of eyesight.
Previously Recalled Vehicles Still on the Road Despite Danger
Many of the Toyota vehicles in the latest “do not drive” warning were subject to previous recalls years ago, but the inflators were never repaired or replaced by owners. Toyota says its records indicate an alarming 20-50% of the affected vehicles still have the deadly Takata airbag inflators despite repeated attempts to reach owners through mail and phone calls.
“Unfortunately, Toyota believes there are still some 2001-2003 model year Corolla and 2002-2003 model year Sequoia vehicles on the road with those same airbags that were recalled several years ago,” said Andrew Gilleland, vice president of corporate communications at Toyota Motor North America.
|Number with Open Recalls
|Lexus SC 430
Experts say numerous factors contribute to owners failing to complete recall repairs, even with matters of life and death, including perceived inconvenience, procrastination, and lack of understanding the risks involved. Many older vehicles are resold to subsequent owners who never receive mailed recall notices or trade hands multiple times making it hard to track them down.
NHTSA Demands Response to Testing Issues
Toyota’s urgent advisory comes after a NHTSA investigation found the company failed to notify regulators about known testing failures with Takata airbag inflators dating back to 2011. The probe revealed internal documents showing some Takata inflators ruptured or exhibited abnormal deployments during product testing.
The NHTSA has ordered Toyota to explain why it failed to submit required Early Warning Reports about the known defects and testing anomalies despite repeated meetings with the agency to discuss problems with Takata inflators. By not fully disclosing issues, Toyota potentially withheld vital safety information from the NHTSA that could have prompted earlier action.
“We now have enough evidence to confirm that Toyota actually knew there was an ongoing safety issue and violated federal law in the process by not immediately letting NHTSA know about the issue and working to remedy the situation promptly,” said NHTSA Administrator Jennifer Timian in a statement.
“We will hold Toyota fully accountable using enforcement powers if an explanation is not sufficient,” she warned.
Toyota says it accepts responsibility for not filing required regulatory reports and is cooperating fully with the NHTSA investigation.
What Owners Should Do Now
All owners impacted by the “do not drive” advisory are strongly urged to make arrangements immediately to park their vehicles outdoors until repairs can be completed and contact their local Toyota dealer for assistance.
Dealers have access to the current registration and title information for impacted vehicle owners to reach out about scheduling repairs once parts become available in the coming months. Owners can also call Toyota’s customer care line at 1-800-331-4331 for updates if they do not hear from a dealer soon.
“We sincerely apologize to owners impacted by this situation and regret any hardship or inconvenience this causes them as we work quickly to finalize repair preparations,” said Lisa Materazzo, Toyota’s vice president of corporate relations.
For owners needing transportation right away, Toyota says limited rental car reimbursement may be available for situations causing extreme hardship. Reimbursements will be handled by dealers on a case-by-case basis until fix parts can be installed.
The urgent warning only applies to 2001-2003 Corollas, 2002-2003 Sequoias, 2002-2003 Tundras, 2003 Matrix hatchbacks, and 2002-2003 Lexus SC 430 vehicles as noted above. Any other Toyota vehicle is not impacted by this advisory and may continue to be driven as normal.
Toyota will continue providing additional updates to owners, dealers, authorities and media outlets as new developments unfold. We urge all impacted owners to actively monitor the situation and take action promptly once repair instructions and parts availability is announced for their vehicles.
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