NHTSA Investigating 2005 Toyota Recall

The continuing debacle at Toyota continues with news that the auto giant allegedly delayed a recall for nearly one year in 2005. According to USA Today, Toyota waited 11 months after issuing a recall for trucks in Japan before recalling about one million of the same vehicles in the United States. That recall involved a steering defect.

Needless to say, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is curious about what led the carmaker to wait almost one year before issuing the recall in this country and said yesterday that it initiated an investigation into the gap, said USA Today. The recall in Japan took place in October 2004; the U.S. recall, involving 977,839 similar vehicles, took place September 2005, explained USA Today.

Although it has not yet determined the timing, the NHTSA has reports of three deaths and seven injuries linked to the faulty steering rods on 4Runner SUVs and T100 and Hi Lux compact pickups, which involve 1989 to 1998 models, said USA Today.

The NHTSA probe is called a TQ—timeliness query—and involves a request to Toyota for information to justify the delay, said USA Today. At the time of the initial recall, Toyota wrote to the NHTSA that although the vehicles in Japan and the U.S. were similar, the two vehicles’ steering linkages and the different geographical driving conditions differed sufficiently to allow for just the Japan recall, explained USA Today.

It seems that, in Japan, relay rods were cracking in extreme steering use, which Toyota claimed had to do with that country’s “narrow parking spots and close-quarter maneuvering,” quoted USA Today. Meanwhile, the NHTSA said it received copies of 41 complaints from U.S. owners to Toyota about that problem, all dated prior to the recall in Japan. This means Toyota likely had details on the problem in the U.S. when it was telling the agency that no problem existed, noted USA Today.

Vice president of industry trends at TrueCar.com, Jesse Toprak, said that these new delay allegations could deal “another severe blow” to the carmaker’s “already fragile consumer trust,” quoted USA Today. TrueCar.com is an auto industry research firm. The new accusations could force Toyota to “consider sweetening already record high per-unit incentive spending,” added Toprak, reported USA Today.

Toyota has been plagued with problems surrounding sticky pedals, has been the subject of months of recalls and probes, an historic NHTSA fine, and a Congressional probe. Most recently, Consumer Reports magazine lifted rare warnings issued on the 2010 Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV that followed a failed emergency handling test linked to a glitch in its electronic stability control system software; 10,000 SUVs were recalled.

The company also just issued a recall to fix a spare tire carrier cable on 600,000 Sienna minivans and just agreed to pay the record $16.375 million fine for concealing information related to a January recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals. Automakers must inform U.S. safety regulators within five days if they determine a safety defect exists. According to an April 5 letter from the NHTSA to Toyota, documents obtained from Toyota show that the company knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009.

Toyota also recently added 50,000 more cars to its ever-growing list of recalls; this time, 50,000 2003-model year Sequoia SUVs, to correct a traction control problem, which concerns defects in the vehicle’s electronic control sensors, explained FreeP.com, a “key point of contention” in Toyota’s ongoing sudden acceleration scandal that has involved thousands of cases. The NHTSA has been investigating issues with Toyota for two years following 68 complaints last year from vehicle owners.

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