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Ear to the Ground

Toyota’s Unhappy Halloween

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Posted on Oct 19, 2013
Ian Halsey (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Japanese automaker is having a bit of bad luck this season, but it has nothing to do with a black cat crossing its path. It’s because of spiders.

That’s right—the creepy crawlers most associated with the month of October have forced Toyota to recall hundreds of thousands of cars, all over the world. According to The Atlantic:

Toyota has announced that it is recalling 870,000 of its vehicles, among them Camrys, Venzas, Avalons, and hybrids with owners spread across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and 16 other countries. Airbags, it seems, have been spontaneously deploying on some of those vehicles across makes and model years—a state of affairs that can range from the merely annoying to the legitimately life-threatening. Power steering, even more ominously, may also be affected. As may cars’ warning lights.

The difficulty stems, Toyota believes, from a problem with a part included in the cars’ elaborate air-conditioning systems. Water from the cars’ condensers has been leaking onto the airbags’ control modules, which seems in turn to cause the bags to deploy independently of the typical triggers.

The condenser, however, isn’t the only cause of the airbags’ spontaneous inflation. The other one? Spiders….Arachnids have been weaving their webs inside the cars’ condensers—and the webs, in turn, have done what nature has designed them to do: trip things up. Bugs in cars, it seems, make for buggy cars.

The eight-legged problem is not widespread; the recall is, as recalls often are, a matter of better-safe-than-sorry. “So far, Toyota is aware of three airbag deployments as a result of this and 35 cases of warning lights coming on,” Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight told CNN. And yet the factor that seems to be common among those incidents is the spiders. In the cases Toyota has investigated so far, CNN notes, “the only consistent cause of the blockages” has been the webs.

But when you take into account the fact that this year alone the once-trusted automobile company recalled 6 million cars due to other problems, you’ve got to wonder if something bigger is at play.

“If you have one big recall, it is still manageable. But if (a company) calls back different vehicle models at different times for unrelated issues, customers tend to have a re-think about your quality assurance,” an auto analyst told the BBC recently.

Looks like Toyota’s under a good old fashioned curse, but one that’s costing a lot more than a couple of warts.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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