Toyota Warned Dealers of Electronics Problem in ’02

A newly revealed Toyota document indicates that the automaker warned dealers in 2002 that some Camry owners had complained about unintended acceleration. To fix the problem, Toyota recommended an adjustment be made to an electronic throttle control unit.

Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota has blamed the speed control issues on defective floor mats and faulty accelerator pedals. In the U.S., five deaths have occurred in auto accidents involving the unintended acceleration of a Toyota or Lexus vehicle. Last August, a California Highway Patrol trooper and three members of his family were killed in such a crash in San Diego County, just south of Orange. At least 47 other fatalities over the past decade alleged to be the result of Toyota unintended acceleration crashes are currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The 2002 Toyota memo was reported by CNN, which obtained it from group of attorneys seeking to file a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the automaker. The technical service bulletin went to every U.S. Toyota dealership in late August 2002 following complaints from owners of 2002 Camrys.

“Some 2002 model year Camry vehicles may exhibit a surging during light throttle input at speeds between 38-42 mph,” the bulletin states. “The Engine Control Module (ECM) calibration has been revised to correct this condition.”

Since recalls began this fall, some Toyota critics have voiced suspicions that problems with the vehicles’ electronic throttle control system could really be behind the speed control issues. For its part, Toyota has insisted that independent testing failed to find such problems.

But Clarence Ditlow, the head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, told CNN that the 2002 bulletin shows that Toyota knew much earlier about an electronic connection to sudden acceleration problems.

The head of a legal group suing Toyota accused the company of lying to the public when it blamed unintended acceleration on floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals. Those problems would be easy to fix, but an electronic issue could cost about $500 per vehicle to repair. If Toyota were to issue a recall over electronics, it could end up costing the automaker between i $4 billion and $5 billion, he said.

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