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Toyota says 50,000 U.S. vehicles are unsafe to drive due to defective air bags

A Toyota RAV4 sits on the sales lot at a Toyota dealership in February 2011 in Oakland, Calif.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
A Toyota RAV4 sits on the sales lot at a Toyota dealership in February 2011 in Oakland, Calif.

Toyota is warning the owners of approximately 50,000 U.S. vehicles to stop driving and get immediate recall repairs due to the risk of a faulty air bag inflator that has the potential to explode and seriously injure or kill the driver or passengers.

In a "Do Not Drive" advisory issued by Toyota on Thursday, the Japanese automaker said the recall covers certain models of the 2003-2004 Corolla, 2003-2004 Corolla Matrix and the 2004-2005 RAV4 that are part of the ongoing Takata air bag recall.

"Owners SHOULD NOT DRIVE these vehicles until the FREE safety recall repair has been conducted," said the statement.

The Toyotaadvisory noted that because of the old age of these vehicles, defective Takata air bag inflators are particularly likely to explode and shoot out sharp metal fragments, causing serious injury or even death. Long-term exposure of the air bag's chemical propellant to high heat and humidity is the leading cause of risk, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many other vehicles are also covered by a "do not drive" advisory for the same recall.

Takata's supply of defective air bags has resulted in "one of the largest and most complex recalls in U.S. history," said the NHTSA.

The federal agency said approximately 67 million defective Takata air bags, involving at least 19 vehicle manufacturers, have been recalled so far. The history of the recall dates back to 2004, according to the NHTSA.

At least 27 people have been killed and more than 400 people have allegedly been injured due to a defective Takata air bag inflator exploding in the U.S., according to the NHTSA.

A Toyota spokesperson said that the company's latest warning is an added effort to support the on-going Takata recall, as "an advisory can help increase repair rates for more difficult-to-reach owner populations who have received multiple communications about this recall." Toyota says it will repair or replace the air bag free of charge.

Erin Witte, the director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America, says the ongoing problem of unrepaired vehicles with Takata airbags goes beyond Toyota and points to broader problems in the U.S. auto market, underscoring how "we're putting this burden on consumers to make sure that their cars get fixed."

"The real issue is that dealers are allowed to sell these cars to consumers," says Witte.

A 2021 investigation from the Consumer Federation of America found that millions of used cars are routinely sold with known life-threatening safety defects.

The "Do Not Drive" advisory from Toyota comes after the Japanese automaker recalled millions of their vehicles back in December for a different air bag issue — a sensor defect that could prevent air bags from deploying.

Drivers can see if their vehicle is involved in a safety recall by visiting Toyota.com/recall or nhtsa.gov/recalls, and entering their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or license plate information.

The VIN is either on the lower left driver side of the car's windshield or the car's registration card. It may also be shown on the insurance card.

A consumer fact sheet from the NHTSA is available for easy reference.

For additional questions, Toyota customer support can be reached by calling the Toyota Brand Engagement Center (1-800-331-4331).

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.