In one of the biggest auto-safety moves of the year, automakers on Thursday recalled more than 1.3 million vehicles in the U.S., part of 3 million worldwide for faulty air bags that could deploy and injure passengers.
The recall urges owners of certain older Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, General Motors and BMW vehicles to take their cars to dealerships. There, mechanics may need to replace faulty canisters that contain the propellant that activates air bags.
The issue centers on "over aggressive" propellants in canisters that inflate air bags that could throw off shrapnel or cause bags to rip or tear, reducing their effectiveness in a crash, according to Takata, the Japanese company that manufactured them.
The recall, which has been traced back to a manufacturing defect, is the 11th air bag-related recall in the U.S. this year. For all of 2012, there were 22.
This isn't Takata's biggest recall. The supplier had to replace millions of seat belts in 1995 to replace defective buckles.
There were other recent hints of similar trouble involving Takata air bags. In December 2011, Honda launched the fourth expansion of a recall of overly powerful driver's-side air bags that could potentially spew shrapnel and kill or maim. Two deaths and 19 injuries were caused by the problem.
"The only mystery is why it took so long" for the recall to expand to the passenger side and to vehicles from other makers, says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
This time, with the passenger-side air bags, no injuries have resulted, Takata and automakers say. But there have been four incidents in the U.S. in which cars involved in crashes had air bags that didn't deploy correctly, plus two in Japan.
Although most of the vehicles in the recall are about a decade old, the problem didn't crop up until 2011, when Takata says in its filing that it was first made aware of the problem.
BMW says it is still assessing which models are to be included in the recall. Other makers say models covered by the recall include:
• Toyota. Vehicles involved include certain Corolla, Corolla Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra and Lexus SC 430 in the 2001 to 2003 model years.
• Honda. Certain Civics, CR-Vs and Odysseys from 2001 to 2003.
• Nissan. Besides Maxima, Pathfinder and Sentra, other models include the Infiniti I35 and QX4 from 2001 to 2003.
• Mazda. Some Mazda6 sedans from 2003 and 2004 and the 2004 RX-8. Only 149 vehicles are involved.
• GM. The 2003 Pontiac Vibe, which was made alongside Toyota's Corolla, will be included.