With massive Toyota recall, automakers on pace to break record

Toyota Motor Corp. will recall more than 6 million vehicles worldwide to fix a variety of problems, including a wiring issue that might disable airbags and a glitch that could trigger the driver’s seat in some cars to suddenly shift.

It’s just the latest in a parade of massive recalls by manufacturers this year, especially in the U.S.

Toyota’s announcement Wednesday brought the number of vehicles called back by automakers in the U.S. to nearly 13 million so far this year, on pace to surpass the record 30.8 million vehicles recalled in 2004. Car companies called back 22 million vehicles last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“This is really the behavior we want manufacturers to exhibit,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with car shopping company “It shows that they recognize a product flaw and that they want to correct it to protect the safety of current and future owners.”

The recalls also come against a backdrop of huge fines and high-profile investigations into whether auto companies covered up safety defects.


Earlier this year, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2-billion fine to settle a four-year federal criminal investigation into whether it properly told regulators about safety complaints concerning sudden acceleration. It also has paid NHTSA about $66 million in fines in recent years for not promptly recalling vehicles.

General Motors is now paying fines of $7,000 a day for missing an NHTSA deadline to provide key information for the safety agency’s probe of why it took the company more than a decade to recall cars with faulty ignition switches linked to 13 deaths. GM, which also faces Department of Justice and congressional investigations, recalled 2.2 million cars for the problem over the last two months.

“Looking at fines for Toyota and GM in recent weeks, it seems that recalls in a timely fashion are the lesser of two evils,” said Dave Sullivan, manager for product analysis for consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. “The microscope gets turned on if a manufacturer doesn’t want to abide in a timely fashion.”

Toyota on Wednesday issued 6.8 million recalls, but because in some cases multiple problems affect the same model, it amounts to 6.4 million vehicles. The global recalls include about 30 models in Japan, the U.S., Europe and other regions. About 1.8 million of the affected vehicles are in the U.S.

Toyota said it will recall 1.3 million vehicles in the U.S. for the airbag issue. The vehicles are the 2009-2010 Corollas, 2009-2010 Matrixes, 2008-2010 Highlanders, 2009-2010 Tacoma trucks, 2006-2008 RAV4s and 2006-2010 Yaris compact cars.

About 40,500 Pontiac Vibes from the 2009-2010 model years are included in the Toyota recall. Toyota designed and engineered the Vibe for Pontiac. GM will service customers with these vehicles when Toyota makes the parts available.

The driver’s airbag module in the Toyota and Pontiac vehicles is attached to a spiral cable assembly with electrical connections that could become damaged when the steering wheel is turned. If this occurs, the airbag warning lamp will light up. The driver’s airbag also could become deactivated, preventing it from deploying in a crash.

Toyota said it has no reports of deaths or injuries resulting from the problem, but the automaker plans to replace the spiral cable assembly with an improved version that won’t become damaged as the steering wheel turns.

Toyota also said that it will recall an additional 472,500 vehicles in the U.S. to fix an issue with the front seats. The cars are the 2006-2010 Yaris hatchbacks, 2007-2010 Yaris sedans and 2008-2010 Scion xDs.

The rail of the driver seat in the cars and the front passenger seat of three-door models uses springs to lock the seats in place after they are adjusted. The springs can break, leaving the seat unlocked and allowing it to move in a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the occupant. But Toyota said it is not aware of any accidents or injuries caused by this condition.

These latest actions bring the number of vehicles Toyota has recalled in the U.S. to about 3 million this year. It recalled nearly 5.3 million vehicles last year, topping all other automakers for the second consecutive year.

But the recall leader so far this year is GM, which including the cars it is bringing back for the switch issue, has recalled more than 6 million vehicles.

Caldwell said consumers should pay attention to the recalls.

“Owners who have received notice are urged to contact their dealers to schedule a fix as soon as possible,” she said. “And car shoppers -- especially used-car shoppers -- should check to see if there are outstanding recalls on any vehicle they might be considering before they buy.”

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