Toyota has urgently warned owners of nearly 50,000 older vehicles in the United States to stop driving them immediately due to potentially deadly defects with Takata airbag inflators that could explode and shoot shrapnel when deployed. The models impacted are the 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix, Toyota RAV4, and the Pontiac Vibe.
Background on Takata Airbag Issues
Takata airbags have been linked to at least 28 deaths and over 400 injuries worldwide. The inflators use ammonium nitrate to quickly inflate airbags in a collision, but exposure to heat and humidity can cause the chemical to deteriorate over time, causing inflators to rupture and spew deadly shrapnel throughout the vehicle. Takata has recalled over 100 million vehicles globally containing these defective airbags.
Most major automotive manufacturers were affected by the faulty Takata airbags, leading to the largest auto safety recall in history. The recalls started in 2008 and have expanded dramatically over the years as more incidents and injuries were reported.
The Danger is Especially Acute in Hot and Humid Climates
The risk of an exploding Takata airbag inflator is especially high for vehicles operated in hot and humid regions, particularly along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Prolonged exposure to heat and high humidity accelerates the breakdown of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators.
Toyota had previously recalled many models equipped with Takata airbags, but the exploding inflator risk persists for thousands of older vehicles that have not yet had their airbags replaced.
50,000 Toyota and Pontiac Vehicles Impacted
An urgent “Do Not Drive” advisory was issued by Toyota on January 29th, 2023 impacting approximately 50,000 vehicles that have airbag inflators which could explode on deployment.
The specific models impacted are:
- 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla
- 2003-2004 Toyota Matrix
- 2002-2004 Toyota RAV4
- 2003-2004 Pontiac Vibe
Toyota stated these particular inflators have up to a 50% chance of exploding in a crash, posing an extremely dire safety risk to drivers and passengers. At least 1 death in the past year has been linked to the defective Takata inflators in these Toyota and Pontiac models.
Drivers Must Get Airbags Replaced Before Driving Again
Owners of the recalled Toyota and Pontiac vehicles are urged to contact their dealer immediately to arrange free replacement of the driver side and passenger side airbag inflators.
Until the inflators have been replaced, Toyota warns that the vehicles should NOT be driven under any circumstances given the acute risk of serious injury or death if the airbags deploy.
Toyota is offering free towing to dealerships or alternative transportation needs to support affected owners in getting their vehicles serviced as soon as possible.
Replacement parts are already available, and mobile repair options are being deployed by Toyota to fix vehicles quickly. Owners will be contacted very soon with details on getting the critical inflator replacement done.
Legal and Financial Fallout
The latest massive Toyota recall over Takata airbags has sparked renewed scrutiny into how regulators and automakers allowed these defective parts to be used for so many years.
Class action lawsuits representing injured victims and families of those killed by exploding Takata inflators continue to wind their way through courts. Takata pled guilty to fraud charges in 2017 and was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion in restitution. The company went bankrupt in 2017.
Automakers have borne huge costs from the record-setting string of Takata recalls and will likely face further financial and reputational damage. Toyota’s brand image in particular may suffer given their prominent role in the Takata airbag crisis.
More Recalls Expected
With over 100 million vehicles equipped with Takata inflators worldwide, additional recalls are anticipated by safety advocates and regulators. The risk of exploding airbags declines over time as older vehicles are retired, but thousands of cars with original Takata equipment still on the road means this public safety crisis has likely not seen its final chapter.
Toyota and other automakers continue to face pressure to accelerate inflator replacements, offer alternative transportation options to impacted owners, and compensate those injured by what is arguably the greatest auto safety failure in history. This recent urgent warning from Toyota on 50,000 more vehicles is unfortunately unlikely to be the last.
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