Why The Airbags In Your Toyota Could Kill You.
Although vehicles made by Toyota are safer now than they have ever been, it happens from time to that some safety devices can pose a deadly threat to the occupants of a vehicle. One such threat to the safety of drivers and passengers involves the front (passenger side) airbags fitted to certain Toyota models manufactured between 2002 and 2008. However, on June 16, 2015, Toyota announced that models manufactured as recently as 2014 are now being included in a massive recall program that involves several million Toyota vehicles in current use in America, Europe, and Japan.
What follows is an explanation of the problem, what causes it, and what is being done to fix the problem.
What’s The Problem?
In a nut shell, the problem involves the fact that some airbags supplied by Takata, a global parts supplier to many car manufacturers, can deploy explosively. When this happens, metal shards from the propellant canister can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin, which can cause serious injuries, and has even killed occupants of the front passenger seat.
Recalled Toyota Models.
Specific Toyota models affected by the recall include:
- Lexus: Lexus SC 2002 – 2005 – Passenger side
- Toyota Corolla: 2002 – 2007 Passenger side
- Toyota Matrix: 2003 – 2007 – Passenger side
- Toyota Sequoia: 2002 – 2007 – passenger side
- Toyota Tundra: 2003-2006 – Passenger side
Note that not all Toyota vehicles manufactured between 2002 and 2008 are affected. However, the models listed below are all affected, and the recall should therefore NOT be ignored. Toyota will replace the passenger side airbag under the terms of the recall notice, but be aware that in total, Takata is obliged to supply around 34 million replacement airbags, since apart from Toyota, as many as ten other car manufacturers are affected as well.
In practice, this means that even though Takata is expected to deliver up to a million replacement airbags per month as from September 2015, it could take several years for a replacement to become available for your car. Until a replacement does become available however, Toyota recommends disabling of the front passenger airbag, as well as not using the seat until the passenger side airbag has been replaced.
What Causes The Issue?
Central to the problem is the fact that the propellant in the airbag inflator sometimes ignites in an uncontrolled fashion, and extensive research by Takata, all the affected car manufacturers, and many independent investigators has identified several causes and contributing factors. Below are the leading causes:
- Poor quality control during manufacture.
- Long-term exposure to high heat and humidity in some regions.
- Car design features that contribute to the way the metal shards are distributed throughout the passenger cabin when an airbag inflator explodes.
How The Toyota Airbag Problem Affects You.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA), vehicles registered in states and territories that experience high temperatures and humidity for most of the year, such as the states around the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, Florida, South Carolina, and the Island territories, are at the highest risk of experiencing catastrophic, and potentially fatal airbag deployments.
The NHTSA also recommends that immediate action be taken if your vehicle is registered in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Texas or if you use an affected Toyota vehicle in Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. This recall should NOT be ignored, since several confirmed fatalities due to catastrophic airbag failures have been reported from outside of these areas.
How Can I Check If My Car Is Included In The Recall?
One way to check if your car is affected is to contact the nearest Toyota dealership, but there is also a look-up tool available online. You need to have the vehicle’s VIN number available, as well as your insurance and registration documents. Simply type in your vehicle’s VIN, and the look-up tool will tell you if your vehicle is affected, or if it is included in the recall.
When Will Replacement Airbags Become Available?
Because of the large number of affected vehicles and the huge back-log in production, owners of vehicles registered outside of the prioritized areas may have to wait for longer periods. Replacement airbags are allocated according to vehicle brand and area of registration, which means that prioritized areas are being served first. Contact your dealer for estimated waiting times in your specific area.
Can I Assume That The Airbags In My Toyota Are Dangerous?
Not all airbags supplied to Toyota by Takata are necessarily defective. Since 2002, only a few cases of catastrophic airbag failures have been reported out of a total of 30 million registered vehicles. Reports submitted to the NHTSA by Takata between November of 2014, and May of 2015 indicate that out of 30 000 ballistic tests carried out on recalled airbags, ”only” 265 exploded catastrophically, a number that equates to 0.8% of the number tested.
However, this is still an unacceptably high incidence, and it far exceeds the average number of airbag failures seen on the roads since the introduction of airbags. Nonetheless, in a further report to the NHTSA, Takata acknowledges that it is aware of 84 airbag inflator failures that occurred during vehicle accidents since 2002.
Is My life At Risk If I Drive an Affected Toyota?
To date, in excess of 100 serious injuries, and seven fatalities have occurred as a result of the inflator canisters on Takata-supplied airbags exploding. In some fatalities, death was caused by the high-velocity impacts of metal shards from the propellant canister, although fatalities due to this cause are in the minority. Nevertheless, in June of 2015, Takata acknowledged that of the 88 incidents it was aware of, 67 failures occurred on the driver’s side airbag, with the remaining 21 cases occurring on the passenger side.
However, Takata went to some lengths to point out that the 88 failures it was aware of must be seen in the context of an estimated 1.2 million airbag deployments during the last 15 years.
Why you should NOT ignore this recall notice.
Apart from exposure to high temperatures and humidity, the age of the affected airbags has also been cited as a key factor in the failure of Takata-supplied airbags. Therefore, if you drive an older, or a previously-owned Toyota vehicle, it is critically important that the airbag replacement on your car be performed sooner, rather than later. Moreover, don’t bank on the fact that you live outside the prioritized areas- used vehicles move across state boundaries all the time, and for all you know, your used Toyota may have spent the first few years of its life in the prioritized area.
How can I minimize the risks?
Unfortunately, there is currently no quick-fix solution the potential danger of the airbags in your Toyota causing you more harm than good, apart from either disabling the frontal airbags, or not using the passenger seat. However, if you have to use your car, we suggest that you use this look-up tool (that is specific to Toyota), to confirm which of your frontal airbags is affected.
If it turns out that the driver’s side is affected on your car, the only things you can do is to minimize the time spent driving, to use public transport, or to rent a car until yours can be fixed. To sweeten this bitter pill, Toyota has undertaken to arrange to have your car picked up from your home if you are uncomfortable with the idea of driving it to a dealership to have the airbags replaced, but they also say that ideally, you should not drive your car until the fix has been performed!