More than 100 million vehicles worldwide had or have Takata airbags that could blow up, and, as of January, 22 deaths were linked to them. The recall has been going on for years, but so many people still have the airbags, Toyota partnered on an app with a “game design” and “incentives” to spread the word.
Turning the biggest recall in automotive history, which happens to be deadly, into a game-like incentive program is weird to digest. But if it helps at least some people get their airbags fixed, it can’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Toyota announced the app on Wednesday, and it’s a partnership with a thing called the Carma Project—a technology platform where people can influence each other to get their car recalls done, and, apparently, earn incentives for it. People just go to the Carma Project website, sign up, and start telling people to get their recalls done so that they don’t end up with an exploding airbag.
The Carma Project website advertises “up to $55 in gift cards for every eligible vehicle you help get fixed,” and it lets people do things like upload photos of their license plates to check recall statuses and schedule repair appointments from their phones.
Here are some more details on the whole thing, from the Toyota press release:
In connection with Toyota’s support of the Carma Project, people can earn financial rewards by signing up for Carma Project and sharing Takata airbag recall information with their friends and family. A simple license plate photo or typing a VIN into a recall lookup tool on Carma Project’s website allows involved Toyota, Lexus, and Scion owners to immediately take action and book an appointment for a free Takata airbag fix. Referring individuals can also earn financial rewards for every eligible Toyota, Lexus, or Scion that is fixed.
“As more automotive manufacturers join Carma Project, more incentives will be added, ultimately leading to our mission of eradicating this ongoing problem,” [Carma Project CEO Fabio] Gratton further explained.
The Takata airbags affected by this massive, years-long recall have cheaply made and faulty inflators with ammonium nitrate, which gets volatile in the presence of moisture and high temperatures. That can lead to the explosions, which have been linked to the injuries of more than 150 people and deaths of more than 20. Recalls are so widespread that automakers have tried all sorts of things to tell people about them, like Honda going door to door in 2017.
Even after years of trying to get people to do the recalls, the press release from Toyota said the recall still affects vehicles made by 19 different automakers. The recalls remain in the tens of millions.
While people, by nature, are bad at getting recalls done, the fault here lies with plenty of automakers and Takata. Reports and lawsuits over the years have said that Takata and a lot of automakers knew the airbags were defective for years, to the point that lawsuit documents showed that a Takata airbag engineer wrote “Happy Manipulating!!!” in an email years ago.
Court documents from 2017 illustrated the extent to which some automakers knew the airbags were defective, including Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota—even Toyota, our golden light shining with incentives for spreading the word about the airbags in these dark, dark Takata times. Reports from 2016 had evidence that automakers like General Motors knew of safety concerns around the Takata airbags, but signed on for using them to save a little cash.
The Takata airbags were an automaker and parts-manufacturer problem that became an owner problem when people bought the vehicles, but it’s always far better to do a free recall you weren’t expecting than to be on the other end of an exploding airbag or any other safety issue.
And, you know, Toyota’s now offering some incentives for to get this stuff done.