DETROIT – Six automakers, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, are recalling nearly 3.4 million older-model vehicles worldwide because of defective air bags that can send shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment.

The recall mainly affects cars sold by Japanese automakers in North America, Europe and Japan. A small number of cars made by Germany’s BMW AG and General Motors Co. are also involved.

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 highways.

The recall, announced Thursday in Japan, 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.

The latest recall is the fourth for Toyota since October that involves more than 1 million vehicles, IHS Automotive analyst Paul Newton wrote in an email. And the company endured a series of huge recalls in 2009 and 2010 for faulty braking, sticky gas pedals and defective floor mats.

Toyota will have to inspect or fix 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, including about 580,000 in North America, 490,000 in Europe and 320,000 in Japan.

The models include the Corolla company, Matrix hatchback, Sequoia SUV and Tundra pickup, as well as the Lexus SC 430 sports car. All the vehicles were manufactured from 2001 to 2003.

But the latest recall affects other major automakers, including Toyota’s chief Japanese competitor. Honda Motor Co. is recalling 1.1 million vehicles worldwide, including about 680,000 in North America, 270,000 in Japan and 64,000 in Europe. Models include the Civic company, CR-V small SUV and Odyssey minivan from the 2001 to 2003 model years.

Also, Nissan Motor Co. is recalling 480,000 vehicles worldwide, including about 265,000 in the United States. Models include the Nissan Maxima midsize sedan, Pathfinder SUV and Sentra company as well as the Infiniti FX crossover and QX4 SUV, all from the 2001-2003 model years.