It is the third Toyota recall since October to involve more than a million cars, and it comes as the company tries to recover from a damaged reputation following a series of recalls between 2009 and 2011 that were related to unintended acceleration problems.
An IC chip in the airbag control unit can malfunction when it receives electrical interference from other parts in the car, causing the airbags to deploy when it is not necessary, Toyota spokesman Naoto Fuse said.
Toyota is also recalling certain Corolla and Corolla Matrix vehicles in Japan, Canada, and Mexico.
The problem has caused minor injuries such as abrasions in 18 cases that have been reported, he said.
Two accidents have been reported by customers outside Japan, although Toyota has not been able to confirm them, he said.
Toyota will add an electrical signal filter to the airbag control module to the recalled vehicles -- repairs expected to take an hour to hour-and-a-half, he said.
The spokesman declined to disclose the costs involved.
Limited financial impact
TRW Automotive Holding Corp has manufactured the airbag control unit in the vehicles, although the problematic chip is supplied by another company, an employee at TRW's Toyota office told Reuters.
He declined to say where TRW buys the chips from.
The financial impact from the airbag recall is likely to be limited, possibly costing Toyota about 5 billion yen, said Koichi Sugimoto, a senior analyst at BNP Paribas in Tokyo.
Toyota may ask suppliers to compensate, he added.
"While this cannot be ignored, this amount is not going to dent Toyota's operations and share prices are unlikely to be impacted much," he said.
Separately, Toyota will also recall 385,000 Lexus IS and its series, including 270,000 Lexus IS vehicles in the United States over wiper problems, Toyota spokesman Fuse said.
The wiper arm nut of the front wiper in these vehicles may not be tight enough and the wiper may not work under certain weather occasions, including in snow.
Toyota will exchange the nut in repairs that will take about 30 minutes, Fuse said.
Toyota has been showing signs of recovery from the recall crisis and won back the crown as the world's top selling automaker in 2012 from General Motors.
In an effort to move past its safety crisis, Toyota proposed last month and got approval from a judge to spend $1.1 billion to settle one of the biggest U.S. auto class-action lawsuits over claims that millions of its vehicles accelerated unintentionally.
Toyota has not admitted fault in proposing the settlement.
As automakers including Toyota increasingly use shared parts for various models, the number of recalled vehicles have tended to balloon.
In October, the automaker also recalled 7.4 million vehicles globally to fix malfunctioning power window switches, and in November it recalled 2.8 million vehicles for a steering glitch.
Toyota is set to announce its October-December earnings results on February 5.
Copyright @ Thomson Reuters 2013