Airbag, Seatbelt Fears Lead to 3.4-million-vehicle Toyota Recall

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
airbag seatbelt fears lead to 3 4 million vehicle toyota recall

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 crashes, such 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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  • FreedMike FreedMike on Jan 22, 2020

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

    • See 8 previous
    • NormSV650 NormSV650 on Jan 23, 2020

      @conundrum 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.”....

  • Sharon B Sharon B on Sep 06, 2020

    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.

  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
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  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
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