Toyota announced on Thursday that it will recall about 803,000 U.S. cars due to a potential short-circuit hazard. Model year 2012-2013 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Avalon Hybrid and Venza models are affected.
The problem is caused by a chain reaction that starts with the air conditioner condenser, which produces water condensation during normal operation. Typically, this water is collected in the air conditioner housing and drained by a tube.
However, according to a document Toyota filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in cases in which the drainage tube is clogged, the housing can fill with water, which can overflow through a seam in the housing. The water can then drip down onto the airbag control module, which is located beneath the air conditioner condenser. This can cause a short circuit, which can trigger an airbag deployment in some cases, or just cause the airbag warning light to illuminate in others. In some cases found by Toyota, the tube was clogged as a result of spiders building webs in it.
Toyota spokesperson Cindy Knight told CNN that the company is aware of three cases of airbag deployment and 35 cases of airbag warning lights illuminating because of this issue. Knight informed CNN that spiders were the only consistent cause of the drainage tube blockages, although she couldn’t confirm whether spiders were the sole culprits.
Automotive News reports that Toyota is aware of two minor injuries associated with the issue, but no accidents.
Toyota also says it might be possible for the power steering system to shut off because of damage to the airbag control module.
According to a document Toyota filed with NHTSA, Toyota heard about the warning light issue starting in July 2012, but they decided to wait to issue a recall “because of the unusual nature of the incidents involving spider webs clogging the drain hose and low occurrence rate … .” However, after receiving reports starting in June 2013 of inadvertent airbag deployments related to the short-circuit issue, Toyota decided to move forward with a voluntary recall.
In order to fix the problem, Toyota says they will seal the air conditioner condenser housing and install a protective cover underneath it.
This spider-related safety issue may seem unusual, but it has happened before. In 2011, according to NHTSA, Mazda recalled 52,000 Mazda6s because of reports of spiders weaving webs over a vent in the fuel tank. Without being able to vent, pressure in the Mazda6’s fuel tank could build, causing a rupture. Mazda installed a spring to prevent a spider from entering the vent.
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