By on January 22, 2020

2017 Toyota Corolla LE - Image: Toyota

A ghost in the machine that could render passive safety systems like airbags and seatbelt pretensioners useless has infected a range of Toyota models, sparking a global recall of roughly 3.4 million vehicles — some 2,891,976 of those in the United States.

While the suspected fault only rears its head in certain types of crashes, owners would probably prefer their airbags deploy in all major impacts.

According to Toyota, the recall affects the 2011-2019 Corolla, 2011-2013 Matrix, 2012-2018 Avalon, and 2013-2018 Avalon Hybrid. Blame mixed signals for the recall.

The automaker says the affected vehicles “may be equipped with an electronic control unit (ECU) from a specific supplier designed to receive signals from crash sensors and deploy the airbags and seat belt pretensioners. “

“The ECU may not have adequate protection against certain electrical noise that can occur in certain crashessuch as severe underride crashes,” Toyota stated. “This can lead to incomplete or nondeployment of the airbags and/or seat belt pretensioners.”

It goes without saying that having both of these features working properly will greatly improve your odds of surviving a crash. 

The remedy, Toyota claims, is a noise filter placed between the airbag control module and wire harness. An inspection will first determine whether a recalled vehicle needs the filter at all. Owners should be notified of the no-cost remedy by mid-March.

According to documents posted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Toyota is unable to provide an estimate for the percentage of vehicles estimated to contain the defect.” While the fault has been determined to occur only in very specific circumstances (crashes where there is significant engine compartment intrusion before significant deceleration), the NHTSA stated that Toyota “is unable to estimate the likelihood for this to occur in the real world.”

Attempts to replicate the fault in testing have proven inconclusive. One potential real-world example of the fault occured in May of 2018, when a Corolla’s airbags failed to deploy following a frontal collision in California. However, supplier ZF-TRW was unable to download data from the ECU.

[Image: Toyota]

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20 Comments on “Airbag, Seatbelt Fears Lead to 3.4-million-vehicle Toyota Recall...”


  • avatar
    Peter Gazis

    Last week 700,000 vehicles recalled for fuel pump problems. This week 3.4 million recalled for airbags and seatbelts not working during a crash.Not good for a company that sells cheap penalty boxes. Whose only saving grace is reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      Lokki

      What was it Winston Churchill said?

      ”Democracy is worst form of government…except for all the rest”

      I think the same can be said of Toyota. They aren’t perfect, and they are slipping, but they’re still the safest bet for getting a reliable car.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I’d say there isn’t anything that’s downright unreliable anymore. Toyota’s on the higher end of the “more trouble free” spectrum, but I doubt you’d even be able to buy anything these days that’s as bad as, say, a ’80 Cavalier.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        No one is perfect – I mean, Steven Spielberg directed ‘1941’ – sandwiched right in between ‘Close Encounters…’ and ‘Raiders…’

        Nancy Astor: “If I were your wife I would poison your coffee…”
        Winston Churchill: “And if I were your husband, I would drink it.”

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis

        Lokki

        Every car I have ever owned has been reliable until it’s had well over 100,000 miles on it. At that point the vehicle is paid for, and I can afford the occasional repair bill.
        Every Toyota driver I know, gets sick of their cars right away and trades them in every few years.

        • 0 avatar
          Lokki

          Believe whatever you like; I do.

          https://www.consumerreports.org/car-reliability-owner-satisfaction/who-makes-the-most-reliable-cars/

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            It is a valid point. People buy Audi’s VW’s and the like for reasons other than reliability. Reliability is pretty much the only reason to grab a Toyota outside of maybe the big Lexuses.

          • 0 avatar
            Peter Gazis

            Lokki

            No problem I’ll just fill out a few dozen of Consumer Reports reliablity surveys when I’m getting ready to sell my car.

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            That’s not a belief, Lokki – Toyota reliability is a valid conclusion drawn from hard data provided by thousands of drivers. People who claim VWs are reliable are acting on belief!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, Takata’s a gift that just keeps on giving.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Or is it Toyota Sudden Acceleration all over again?

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Does this remind anyone of anything during the unintended acceleration days?

        “However, supplier ZF-TRW was unable to download data from the ECU…”

        The more things change, the more they stay the same…

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      FreedMike

      Nothing to do with Takata. Takata’s problemwas the airbag cartridges would blow up, sending shrapnel in every direction. This is a problem with safety devices not activating during an accident.

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        Not much to do with Toyota either, despite your warbling. It’s a supplier issue, but the assembler has to front the faults to the public. Did anyone with a brain really blame Honda for Takata airbags? Only those with a bone to pick with Honda. I see the same sort of illogic towards Toyota in your remarks, and thus dismiss them out-of-hand. Never owned either a Honda or a Toyota in my life, either. So you’re out of luck on that front for a retort.

        • 0 avatar
          Peter Gazis

          Cunundrum

          Toyota owns most of its suppliers. So it is a Toyota problem.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          Honda was complicit in certifying Takata airbags for production. They are part of the problem.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          “…Takata needs the sign-off of carmaker customers led by Honda on its plans because the costs of air bag repairs and legal liabilities may exceed the assets on its balance sheet and the amount of investment bidders are said to have offered….All but one of the (XXX) motorists who’ve died in fatal accidents involving Takata inflators in the U.S., Malaysia and India occurred in Honda vehicles…” San Antonio Express

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          “…Takata executives are focused on finding short-term solutions to their troubles. That may not be easy. Honda Motors, which has now turned to Takata’s competitors for inflator units, accounted for almost 40% of the company’s revenues last year.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          DETROIT (Reuters) – In August of 2009, after ruptured airbag inflators in Honda vehicles were linked to least four injuries and a death, the automaker quietly requested a design change and did not notify U.S. regulators, Honda confirmed in response to inquiries from Reuters…The request shows that Honda understood the safety risks posed by the inflators long before it started expanding recalls by the millions in 2014, the attorneys and law professors said….The fail-safe modification – outlined in Takata technical documents and internal presentations between 2009 and 2011 and confirmed by Honda – added vents in the inflator to channel pressure from an explosion away from a driver’s neck and torso….Honda is Takata’s biggest customer, and the automaker owns a small stake in the airbag supplier….“You can’t say, ‘It’s a supplier problem, not ours, so we don’t have to talk about it,” he said. “They are responsible for every part on their car and also responsible to report a problem with any part on that car.”…..Six of those deaths and 70 injuries have occurred since Takata began producing the new inflator design for Honda starting in late 2010…Honda officials “made a determination of a defect when they asked for the fail-safe design,” said Kristensen. “They had an obligation to tell the government back in 2009. Good luck defending that.”….

  • avatar
    Sharon B

    We have had repairs completed for two recalls on our 2013 Corolla — one for the Takata airbag, and the second (in the beginning of July 2020) for the noise filter. After the second fix, we experienced the strange occurrence of the “seat belt not fastened” indicator (for the passenger side) lighting up, as well as that of the “airbag off” light. (The SRS airbag symbol to the left of the tachometer would also light up.) The car would go a few days without this occurring, and then out of the blue, the indicators would light up.

    Dealer couldn’t recreate the condition, nor did the ECU show that there had been a problem. We finally brought the car in while the indicators were flashing. We were told that the diagnostic code indicated that it was the “seat belt pretensioner”. They had to contact Toyota to see if this fix was covered(!). We had an appointment scheduled for when they first expected the part to be available. We went in, they said that their computer inventory said it was there, but it was not.

    Unfortunately, whatever part is necessary is out-of-stock and on back order, with no idea of when it will be available. Meanwhile, I’m being chauffeured for almost two months, because I can’t sit in the front passenger seat.

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