Toyota thought it had put the ugliness of unintended acceleration and mass recalls behind it, but now the company is embroiled in another controversy. A worldwide recall of 7.4 million vehicles is under way, due to faulty window switches that could potentially start fires.
The voluntary recall, which affects 2.47 million cars and trucks in the United States, is the biggest single event of its kind since a 1996 recall of 8 million Ford vehicles, set off by faulty ignition switches that, as in the Toyota case, presented a fire risk.
The recall targets power window switches on the driver’s side doors of various Toyota models. The matter has been under investigation for some time. In April, Toyota told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the problem was caused by dealers spraying cleaning agents into the doors to unjam stuck windows. A more in-depth NHTSA investigation concluded that the window switches themselves were defective.
A Toyota representative told Reuters that the window switches could emit smoke, and the company’s U.S. press release said a fire could start if the window switch is exposed to commercially available lubricants. No actual fires have been reported.
Luckily, the fix is pretty simple: Toyota will coat the switches in heat-resistant grease, or replace them with new parts.
Small parts causing big problems is not uncommon in the automotive industry; Ford recently recalled its Escape because of a batch of leaky fuel lines. What is remarkable about this recall is the sheer number of vehicles it affects.
The 7.4 million vehicles involved in the recall were sold in the U.S., China, and Europe. Vehicles sold in the U.S. include: the 2007 to 2008 Yaris, 2009 Corolla and Matrix, 2007 to 2009 RAV4, Camry, Camry Hybrid, and Tundra, 2008 to 2009 Sequoia, and 2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid. Scion xB and xD models from 2008 and 2009 are also being recalled. So far, no Lexus models have been affected.
Why would a compact hatchback and a full-size pickup be part of the same recall? As the saying goes, the Devil is in the details. To save money, car companies try to use common parts whenever possible. That is why many Toyota models use the same power window switches, even if they have little else in common.
Owners will be notified by mail beginning this month. Toyota is advising them to have their vehicles inspected by dealers, who will replace any defective switches free of charge. Replacing the switch should take about an hour.