Toyota air conditioners smell like mold in numerous vehicles. So what's causing the musty smell and just how dangerous is it?
Toyota vehicles have defective heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that cause smells and health problems from mold that collects on the evaporators. Numerous complaints have been filed with CarComplaints.com, the government, Toyota and Lexus dealerships nationwide since at least 1999.
Mold and Must Technical Service Bulletins
Toyota first sent dealerships TSB AC002-97 in May of 1997. The TSB told technicians about customers complaining of musty odors coming from the air conditioners. The bulletin said the smells could arise from blocked evaporator housing drain pipes that cause condensation on the systems.
In August 2009, Toyota issued another bulletin (TSB-0261-09) about musty smells in certain Camry, Camry HV and Prius cars. The TSB said the automaker had created a new evaporator sub-assembly to “decrease the potential for HVAC odor.” TSB-0261-09 was last updated in November 2011.
Toyota and Lexus dealers received another TSB in September 2013 titled “HVAC Odor Maintenance,” but the bulletin admitted there was no way to eliminate the smells.
Where’s the Smell Coming From?
Toyota blames the smells on “[m]icrobes [i.e., mold] growing on the evaporator surface” including “small living bacteria . . . carried into the evaporator case [that] grow in the warm, moist environment.”
Moldy Air Conditioning Lawsuit s
According to a 2018 lawsuit, Toyota has created a manual called “Toyota Air Conditioning and Climate Control Course 752” about the musty air conditioning systems. In the manual, Toyota admits the smells “are a common complaint among users” and “there is no permanent mechanical repair” for the odors.
In addition to the moldy musty odors and possible health consequences, the plaintiffs claim the airbag modules are damaged when water leaks onto the modules from the HVAC systems. Damage to the modules can cause illuminated airbag warning lights, airbag failures or inadvertent airbag deployments.
As for what is causing the alleged problem, the lawsuit says the air conditioner systems don’t properly remove water from the evaporators and from the enclosures that contain the evaporators. Mold and other contaminants grow on the evaporators and are sent into the passenger cabins by the blowers.
Toyota had previously been sued in 2016 by Camry owners for moldy smell problems.