A faulty air bag part that can explode and send shrapnel into the passenger cabin is responsible for the global recall of more than 3 million cars manufactured by Honda, Nissan, Toyota and General Motors and will likely lead to more recalls.
The problem was reported to Japanese safety regulators late Wednesday night, but since the part manufactured by Takata Corp. is used internationally, it probably affects more automakers.
"Takata supplies a lot of U.S. manufacturers, too," said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
All of the recalled cars announced so far were produced from 2000 to 2004.
In some of these vehicles, the propellant housed in a metal canister in the system can burn too quickly, causing the container to explode. If that happens, metal shards will rocket up into the windshield and ricochet down onto the passenger's feet.
Normally, gases from the propellant fill up the air bag, which protects the passenger in a crash, said Chris Martin, a Honda spokesman.
He said Honda knows of one crash in which a passenger front air bag deployed with too much pressure, causing the casing to rupture. Honda is not aware of any injuries or deaths related to this issue.
Honda told Japanese safety regulators that it will recall 1.1 million vehicles, The total includes 426,000 Civic vehicles from the 2001-03 model years, about 43,000 CR-V vehicles from 2002-03 and about 92,000 Odyssey vehicles from 2002.
Toyota recalled 1.7 million vehicles, including about 510,000 in the United States, including Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra and Lexus SC 430 models. Toyota believes that about 170,000 of those vehicles were built with the Takata air bag system that has caused the problem, but will have to inspect all of the cars, said Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman.
Toyota knows of five reports of faulty air bag deployment, including three in the United States but said it was not aware of any injuries, Knight said.
"The air bags are not inadvertently deploying; these were all in crashes," Knight said.
Nissan recalled 480,000 vehicles globally, but was still determining how many in North America. The models recalled in Japan include the Cube and Maxima, both sold in the United States.
General Motors said it would recall about 55,000 Pontiac Vibes from the 2003 model year sold in the United States and Canada.
Mazda said it recalled 20,000 vehicles, but less than 200 in the United States. The affected cars include the Mazda6 and RX-8.
Ford said it was looking into the issue to see if it would have to recall any vehicles. Chrysler Group said it was not affected by the Takata air bag issue.