Remember Toyota's sticky accelerator from a couple of years ago, and the ensuing recall of millions of cars? Today, the Japanese carmaker recalled nearly 7.5 million vehicles worldwide because of a sticky power-window switch that has caused fires. The faulty part has led to nine reported injuries, but no deaths. Toyota’s move provides a window into the tricky business of automotive recalls.
Recalls involving immediate danger may be government mandated. Toyota’s is voluntary and most of those start with reports from the field. Toyota first learned of this problem in 2008.
“The automaker starts receiving complaints, from customers via dealers, usually, that something’s going wrong,” says John O'Dell, senior editor at the car guide Edmunds.
The automaker will next consult with engineers and its legal department. It must share information with federal regulators.
It costs big money to publicize a recall and pay for repairs, and there’s plenty of risk in admitting a screw-up. So recall decisions involve extensive research, consideration and planning.
Auto consumer observer Art Spinella of CNW Research believes Toyota’s long string of recent recalls is harming the brand.
“The biggest problem for Toyota is not its legacy buyers, those people who have always bought a Toyota,” he says, “but the folks who are on the fence or have never had a Toyota in the family.”
Of course, not fessing up about a problem can be far worse than any recall. Toyota was pummeled for how it handled the dangerous sudden acceleration problem. This time, a company spokesman I talked to kept repeating the phrase “above and beyond” referring to Toyota’s sweeping recall.
“A well-handled recall can do wonders on the plus side for an automotive brand,” insists Jim Treece, an editor at Automotive News.
Toyota’s bet is that by coming clean loudly, it can slowly wipe away the greasy stains of past problems.
Should you bring your car in? U.S. vehicles affected by recall (via Toyota)
• 2007 to 2008 Yaris (approx. 110,300)
• 2007 to 2009 RAV4 (approx. 336,400)
• 2007 to 2009 Tundra (approx. 337,100)
• 2007 to 2009 Camry (approx. 938,100)
• 2007 to 2009 Camry Hybrid (approx. 116,800)
• 2008 to 2009 Scion xD (approx. 34,400)
• 2008 to 2009 Scion xB (approx. 77,500)
• 2008 to 2009 Sequoia (approx. 38,500)
• 2008 Highlander (approx. 135,400)
• 2008 Highlander Hybrid (approx. 23,200)
• 2009 Corolla (approx. 270,900)
• 2009 Matrix (approx. 53,800)