Recently, a Honda Pilot and Honda Odyssey airbag recall was announced. That involved 748,000 model-year 2009-2013 Pilot and 2011-2013 Odyssey vehicles in the United States to inspect and, if necessary, replace the driver's-side airbag.
The Toyota Corolla and Corolla Matrix vehicles recall is just as big with 752,000 vehicles involved for just two model years. The official statement from Toyota is "The airbag control module for the supplemental restraint system (SRS) in the Corolla and Corolla Matrix vehicles could have been manufactured with application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that are susceptible to internal shorting. These ASICs could experience an internal short that creates abnormal current flow and increased heat. If this occurs, there is a possibility that the ASIC could become damaged. In some instances, the front airbag(s) and/or seat belt pretensioners could inadvertently deploy."
Anytime an airbag deploys – when there is no collision involved – is a bad thing. They explode with a lot of force and can cause injury. Normally, the injuries from an airbag deployment in a collision are considered collateral damage because things could have been a lot worse without them. For example, an abrasion or burn is better than broken bones or death!
There's also the problem that in this instance the airbag would be most likely causing a collision instead of protecting occupants after a collision. It would be almost impossible not to lose control of a vehicle after an unforeseen airbag deployment.
Here's a quirky little fact about the 2003 Toyota Corolla. It made a LoJack list of most stolen used cars. Now wouldn't that be ironic if the airbag went off when a thief was behind the wheel? Would seem a just (and instant) punishment.
Here's a not so quirky fact about the Toyota Corolla. It's a great used car – well at least it used to be. (Airbag recalls are always a troublesome thing.) Consumer Reports has long considered the Toyota Corolla to be a best bet. The 2003 model gets solid, excellent marks in all categories. Plus, you could get this model year for about $5000 and have a solid car.
So, does this mean one shouldn't buy a used Toyota Corolla or used Toyota Corolla Matrix because of this recall? Not at all, but you need to make sure the work has been done on either vehicle before purchasing it. Normally, I advise that it's OK to buy a used car subject to recall even if the work hasn't been done. It can be a negotiating tactic to get a reduced price if the work hasn't been done (as in "Give me $100 off for getting the work done.")
In good conscience, I can't make that same recommendation when the airbag is involved because it's such a valuable piece of safety equipment. Basically, it makes no sense to drive a car that has the equipment but isn't working. Now, I know it's safe to drive a used car without an airbag. There are millions of them on the road but why pay for a used car with a working airbag if the airbag isn't working? Let the owner assume all the risks before completing the transaction.
While we're on the topic of buying a used car subject to a recall, here are some other things to keep in mind. Consult CarFax.com's vehicle recall list. It will tell you if the specific vehicle you are interested in is subject to a recall. You just need the vehicle identification number.
This is an especially important recall to keep on top of because of the age of the vehicles. By 10 years old, a used car could have had three or more owners. Recall notices may not reach the right owner in time. You have to be extra vigilant before buying one of these used Corollas for that reason.
For those two model years, Toyota sold about 4.8 million cars in the United States. That means roughly 1 in every 7 cars it sold in those years is being recalled. Are you looking at buying a used Corolla? Odds are good that it has been subject to a recall for the airbags. Be extra vigilant and make sure the work has been done before proceeding with a purchase.