The recall mainly affects cars sold by Japanese automakers in North America, Europe and Japan, including less than 50,000 made by Mazda. However, a small number of cars made by Germany's BMW AG and General Motors Co. are also involved.
Among the 1.1 million vehicles being recalled by Honda, about 107,000 are in Canada, while the 1.7 million vehicles being recalled by Toyota include 75,000 in Canada and 580,000 across North America.
Nissan Canada estimates about 20,000 of its vehicles will be subject to the recall in this country, while Mazda Canada is recalling a relative handful of just over two dozen vehicles.
At GM, about 55,000 Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks sold in the U.S. and Canada are being recalled. The 2003 models are nearly identical to the Toyota Matrix and were made at a California plant that was jointly run with Toyota.
GM Canada said it was still collecting information from Toyota and not immediately able to say how many Canadian vehicles might be affected.
BMW said it was researching the problem but no numbers or models were available.
The front passenger air bags all were made by the same parts supplier, Japan's Takata Corp. They have faulty inflator mechanisms that don't route gas into the air bags. Instead, the high-pressure gas can launch plastic and metal parts from the air bags into the cars' passenger areas.
Takata says no one has been hurt, but there have been six incidents of the air bags deploying improperly on roadways.
The problem crept in because of two human errors during production, according to Honda spokeswoman Akemi Ando. A worker forgot to turn on the switch for a system weeding out defective products and parts were improperly stored, which exposed them to humidity.
The recall is Takata's largest since 1995, when nine automakers had to repair faulty front seat belts in nine million cars sold from 1986 through 1991.
The recall is so large because many automakers use common parts on multiple models to cut costs and simplify manufacturing. This approach was pioneered by Japanese automakers.
Transport Canada said that its has received no complaints about the problem and prior to receiving verbal notification on Wednesday it had no knowledge of the issue.
The federal agency said owners should take their vehicles to a dealer as soon as they receive notification from the vehicle manufacturer and the problem will be fixed for free.
Toyota said it had received five reports of airbag problems, three in the U.S. and two in Japan, but there have been no injuries.
Honda said it knows of one crash related to the problem, but it was not aware of any injuries or deaths related to this issue.
In Canada, the recall covers almost 81,000 Honda Civics and about 11,000 Acura 1.7 EL vehicles from the 2001-2003 model years; 6,140 CR-V vehicles from 2002-2003 and almost 10,000 Odysseys from the 2002 model year.
Toyota Canada said vehicles being recalled for inspection in Canada include certain model year 2003 Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra vehicles, and model year 2002 and 2003 Lexus SC 430 vehicles.
Nissan has recalled 480,000 vehicles globally, with about 20,000 in Canada among the 290,000 being recalled in North America.
Nissan Canada said models expected to be impacted include the Nissan Maxima, Pathfinder and Sentra, and the Infiniti I35, QX4 and FX models.
Recalled models in Japan include the Cube, X-Trail, Maxima and Teana, made from August 2000 to January 2004, spokesman Chris Keeffe said.
Also affected under the same recall are 45,000 RX-8 and Mazda 6 at Mazda Motor Corp. However, the recall in Canada involves just 26 of those vehicles, all from the 2004 model year.
Elsewhere, about 270,000 Honda vehicles in Japan and 64,000 in Europe are also included in the recall, while the Toyota recall also includes 490,000 vehicles in Europe and 320,000 in Japan.
The recall also extends to Latin America, China and other Asian countries as well as the Middle East and Africa.
— With files from The Associated Press.
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