Wednesday, March 17, 2010


100+ Complaints Lodged Over Fixed Toyotas

Complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas repaired under recalls have nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data.

The complaints from 105 drivers raise questions about whether Toyota's repairs will prevent the cars from speeding up on their own or if there is another reason for the problem.

Toyota has said it is confident in its repairs and has found no evidence of other problems, such as faulty electronics. The automaker did not immediately comment Wednesday on the latest complaints.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was contacting owners who have complained about their repaired vehicles. David Strickland, NHTSA's administrator, said in a statement Wednesday the agency has found "several instances in which a dealer made mistakes in applying one of the recall remedies."

He said NHTSA has discussed the issue with Toyota, which is trying to improve instructions to dealers.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since October over complaints that gas pedals can become sticky or trapped under floor mats.

An review of a NHTSA database found reports of repaired cars continuing to accelerate on their own had jumped to 105 since March 4, when the government reported 60 such complaints. The complaints are submitted online or through a NHTSA hot line and have not been independently verified.

In many of the comments, which can be filed anonymously, owners said the sudden acceleration issue reappeared only days after their cars were fixed at their local dealership.

The safety concerns are difficult to pinpoint because they could be related to any number of factors, said Diane Steed, who served as NHTSA administrator during the Reagan administration.

Besides telephone interviews with owners, the agency will look at how dealers fixed the cars, whether the problems involved common parts or the same manufacturing facilities or whether human error might be involved, she said.

Steed, who led the agency during a lengthy review of sudden acceleration complaints in Audi sedans, said there is no specific threshold that would automatically lead the agency to demand that Toyota, or any other automaker involved in a recall, come up with a new fix.

"It's really an engineering judgment call," she said. "The real challenge is not so much the numbers but digging to get to the bottom of what is the problem."

Prius In NY Crash Yielding Data

Investigators from Toyota and the U.S. government inspected a crashed 2005 Prius in a suburb of New York City on Wednesday to see if a black box-like device or its wreckage could point to problems with the brakes or accelerator.

The black box, known as an event data recorder, yielded information on engine speed and pedal position, Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Wade Hoyt said. Investigators were still downloading additional data, he said.

A housekeeper who was driving the car told police that it sped up on its own as she eased forward down her employer's driveway on March 9 and hit a wall across the street. She was not hurt. Harrison Police Department Capt. Anthony Marraccini said driver error had not been ruled out or indicated.

Hoyt said Wednesday that Toyota will share the results of its investigation with local police. Marraccini said that any definitive information on the cause of the crash will be released to the public after that.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million cars since last fall because their gas pedals could become stuck or be held down by floor mats. The Prius hasn't been recalled for sticky accelerators. However, the wrecked Prius had been repaired for the floor mat problem.

The government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems. Toyota is checking into those complaints as well.

On Wednesday, six Toyota inspectors, two from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other experts huddled around laptop computers as they examined the gray Prius under a tent outside the Harrison police headquarters. The car's front end was smashed in, its hood bent upward; it had a broken bumper and headlight, a flat tire and heavy scratches around its Toyota logo.

The investigation follows Toyota's probe into the claims of a California driver who said he was unable to stop his runaway Prius on a freeway last week until a state trooper helped him. The company held a news conference Monday and said the driver's account was substantially different from its findings.

Investigators are hoping the vehicle's event data recorder sheds more light on what led to the accident. Similar to airplane black boxes, event data recorders catalog various information about a vehicle around the time of a crash, such as its speed, engine throttle and whether the gas or brake pedals were depressed.

Some event data recorders are capable of recording data several seconds before and after an accident. However, the current Prius is an earlier model and its data recorder only records information at the moment of impact, Hoyt said.

Hoyt also said Toyota investigators were examining the vehicle's "trouble codes," which would point to malfunctions in the Prius around the time of the crash.

He said the Prius comes with a backup safety system for the brakes. The car's engine idles if a driver hits the accelerator and brake at the same time. "If that's all working, it should be impossible, really, for the car to take off on its own."

Dealers and experts have had trouble recreating episodes of sudden acceleration, and Toyota says tests have failed to find other problems beyond the sticking gas pedals and floor mats.

NHTSA; Toyota; Reuters; AP.

No comments: