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1 million Toyotas recalled for wiper, airbag issues

Toyota says it is recalling a total of more than 1 million vehicles, including some late-model luxury cars, due to a pair of safety problems involving defective airbags and faulty windshield wipers.

The announcement comes during the same week the maker confirmed it regained its title in 2012 as the world’s best-selling automotive manufacturer.  But Toyota also had more vehicles recalled than any other automaker operating in the U.S. last year – the third time it has captured that dubious distinction in four years.

The new recall involves about 752,000 Corolla and Corolla Matrix cars sold in 2003 and 2004. According to Toyota, a control module is susceptible to short-circuiting. If that happens, it could cause their airbags and front seat pre-tensioners to inadvertently deploy. 

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The second recall affects an estimated 270,000 Lexus IS models sold between 2006 and early 2012. The maker says, “the wiper arm nut might not be sufficiently tight. If movement of the wipers is restricted by an external load, such as a buildup of heavy snow on the windshield, one or both of the wipers could become inoperative.”

The twin recalls are the latest in an ongoing series of large-scale safety service actions that have threatened to tarnish Toyota’s traditionally sterling reputation for quality, reliability and dependability, or QRD in industry terms.

Just last October, 7.4 million vehicles were recalled worldwide due to the potential risk of a vehicle fire linked to a faulty power window switch. A third of those vehicles had been sold in the States. In November, Toyota recalled another 2.8 million vehicles due to problems with hybrid and steering systems. 

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In all, Toyota recalls involved 5.3 million cars, trucks and crossovers in the U.S. market alone in 2012, well ahead of second-place Honda, which called back 3.9 million vehicles.  Of the Detroit makers, GM recalled 1.5 million vehicles, landing third on the overall list last year.

But Toyota’s recall problems really began in 2009 when it ordered the first in an expanding series of safety actions related to unintended acceleration issues. The first involved vehicles whose carpets could trap the accelerator pedal, an issue highlighted when a California Highway Patrol Officer and several family members were killed in a fiery crash.

Early in 2010, a second problem involving sticky accelerator pedals came to light. That not only forced Toyota to recall millions more vehicles but to briefly halt production at many of its U.S. assembly lines.  

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During those two years alone more than 8 million vehicles were recalled due to unintended acceleration problems. The maker was grilled by Congress and hammered by a series of record fines for illegally delaying safety-related recalls.  But Toyota was hit again last year by another record fine due to another delay related to so-called carpet entrapment on its Lexus RX crossovers.

Despite its ongoing problems, industry analysts have seen little sign of any impact on Toyota’s image – or sales, the maker handily outpacing the U.S. auto market’s overall 13.5% increase in 2012.

Global sales, meanwhile surged to 9.75 million last year, well ahead of second-place GM which sold 9.29 million vehicles.

Toyota says it will shortly notify owners affected by its two latest recalls.  Owners can also reach the company at and the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or and Lexus Customer Satisfaction (1 800-255-3987).