More than three years after Toyota first learned that its curtain-shield air bags could deploy without a crash, the automaker is recalling almost 308,000 sport utility vehicles. The recall covers about 214,000 RAV4s from the 2007-8 model years and 94,000 Highlander and Highlander hybrids from 2008. The curtain shield is a tubular air bag mounted in the roof, just above the windows. In a side-impact crash or rollover, it is designed to provide head protection for front and rear-seat passengers. It deploys with less force than frontal air bags.
While NHTSA has eight complaints on its Web site from owners reporting inadvertent deployments, the Agency never began an investigation. Five of those complaints were filed last year. Toyota said it learned of the problem in 2007 and discovered it was caused by a short circuit in two sensors. The automaker said it changed the sensor design in January 2008. Despite the change, Toyota has continued to receive reports of deployments.
Under federal regulations, a manufacturer has five days to inform the NHTSA of a safety problem and its plan for a recall, or face civil fines. Toyota paid almost $49 million in fines last year, the maximum allowed, following three allegations by NHTSA that the automaker had not reported safety problems in a timely manner.
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