Toyota Motor Corporation has issued an urgent warning to owners of approximately 50,000 older vehicles in the United States to stop driving certain 2003-2004 Corolla, 2003-2004 Corolla Matrix, and 2004-2005 RAV4 models immediately. The automaker says these vehicles are under recall for defective Takata airbag inflators that can explode and unleash shrapnel when deployed, potentially causing serious injury or death.
This drastic “Do Not Drive” advisory comes as Toyota faces renewed scrutiny over its handling of the largest automotive safety recall in history, which has so far affected over 100 million vehicles worldwide made by over 20 brands. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has linked over 30 deaths globally to faulty Takata airbags since 2009, including 26 fatalities in the US.
Which Toyota Models Are Affected?
The Toyota recall involves driver side airbags in the 2004-2005 RAV4 compact SUV, while the Corolla and Corolla Matrix recall covers only front passenger airbags. However, Toyota says some 2003-2004 Corolla and Corolla Matrix vehicles are also under a second recall for airbags that can deploy suddenly even without a crash.
Owners can check their vehicle identification number (VIN) at Toyota’s website to see if their car is affected. Approximately 20,000 of the 50,000 vehicles under the “Do Not Drive” warning were already involved in previous recalls in 2015 and 2019-2020.
Takata Airbag Defect Has Killed 26 Americans
The potentially lethal defect relates to the inflators inside Takata airbags, which use explosive propellants to rapidly inflate the airbag in the event of a crash. But over time, exposure to high temperatures and humidity can cause these propellants to become unstable. Faulty inflators can end up exploding with too much force, rupturing the metal inflator housing and shooting shrapnel throughout the vehicle.
To date, NHTSA has confirmed that 26 Americans have died from injuries sustained after defective Takata airbag inflators exploded in crashes involving Honda, Ford, BMW, GM, and Toyota vehicles. The agency says an additional 290 injuries have been reported, with cases still under investigation.
Worldwide, Takata airbags have caused at least 31 deaths and over 300 injuries when inflators ruptured during deployment. The casualties involve vehicles made by Honda, Toyota, Ford, BMW, General Motors, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Ferrari, McLaren, and others.
Why Has Toyota Issued a “Do Not Drive” Warning Now?
Toyota did not specify if the drastic advisory was prompted by a recent serious injury or fatality linked to the recalled vehicles. However, the unusual warning comes after other automakers have resorted to similar measures following deadly incidents in their recalled models last year:
- In July 2022, Stellantis warned owners of 29,000 older Dodge Ram 1500 pickups to immediately stop driving them after a Takata inflator explosion led to a fatality.
- In November 2022, Stellantis issued another “Do Not Drive” warning for 276,000 older vehicles across the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands following three more deaths linked to faulty Takata inflators.
- In February 2023, Honda told owners of 8,200 older Acura and Honda vehicles to stop driving them immediately after a faulty Takata inflator killed the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord.
Toyota has reported at least 23 deaths and over 200 injuries worldwide related to Takata inflator ruptures. The automaker may be attempting to get ahead of the issue by warning owners not to drive the affected vehicles until they can be fixed.
Millions of Recalled Vehicles Remain Unrepaired
The urgent warning reveals that millions of vehicles under the Takata recall have still not gotten repaired despite repeated notifications urging owners to take action. Toyota says approximately 20,000 vehicles now under the “Do Not Drive” advisory were already involved in previous recalls – but still have the dangerous original inflators fitted.
Industry data suggests recall completion rates of only 42 percent for the Takata airbag recall so far. Reluctance among owners to take time for repairs, difficulty locating replacement parts, and lack of awareness are reasons cited for poor recall compliance. Rental car companies and used car dealers also sometimes fail to fix recalled vehicles in their fleets.
To encourage owners to act, Toyota is offering free loaner cars as an alternative to stopping driving as well as free pickup and drop-off for recall repairs. NHTSA is also considering taking action against automakers who fail to reach high recall completion rates.
With over 67 million Takata inflators under recall in the US, and the defect linked to almost 30 American deaths over 14 years, regulators emphasize that receiving recall repairs immediately could be a matter of life-and-death. Toyota’s drastic warning highlights that danger still remains very real for owners continuing to drive affected vehicles.