28 April 2010

Another Recall Announced by Toyota

NY Times

DETROIT — Toyota announced a second recall Wednesday related to the vehicle stability control system on its sport utility vehicles, this one concerning the 2003 model year Sequoia.

Toyota said it would upgrade the stability control system on 50,000 Sequoias built in the early part of the 2003 model year. It said no accidents or injuries had resulted.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into the problem in December 2008, and broadened the investigation last April.

In all, Toyota has recalled more than nine million vehicles worldwide since November, including two major recalls involving sticking accelerator pedals on a variety of its models.

On April 18, Toyota agreed to pay a $16.4 million fine imposed by the Transportation Department, which charged that the company deliberately hid information about one of the pedal-related recalls. Toyota has not admitted fault in the situation.

The stability control system is meant to control a loss of traction on the front or rear tires while the vehicle is going through a corner. Toyota said that on some of the Sequoias, the system could activate at low speeds and prevent the driver from accelerating as quickly as he or she might like.

It said it had made a design change on the vehicles during the model year, and that it had already repaired about half the vehicles involved in the recall under warranty. The vehicles were built at Toyota’s plant in Princeton, Ind., between April 2002 and April 2003.

Toyota said it had responded to individual drivers’ complaints by replacing a skid control engine control unit. It first sent dealers a technical bulletin about the matter in fall 2003.

The Sequoia recall comes a week after Toyota said it was recalling 2010 models of the Lexus GX 460, a luxury sport utility that had been deemed “not safe to drive” by Consumer Reports magazine.

In mid-April, Consumer Reports said the GX, a luxury sport utility vehicle that is new for the 2010 model year, failed to prevent its rear end from sliding sideways during sharp turns.

Toyota has temporarily stopped building and selling the vehicle, and it recalled the GX 460 and the Land Cruiser Prado, an S.U.V. sold overseas.

In the wake of the magazine’s report, the company has been testing the stability control systems across its S.U.V. lineup. But the Sequoia recall comes about 18 months after the N.H.T.S.A. opened its investigation.

At the time, the agency had received 50 complaints about problems with the stability control system, with 13 drivers saying that they had almost been involved in crashes, documents from the N.H.T.S.A. showed.

According to agency documents, Toyota initially told the N.H.T.S.A. that several issues could be involved in those complaints.

It said it believed the vehicle stability control system was operating as designed, and that the problem most likely lay in the way drivers used the traction control system. It said it had not determined that a safety-related defect existed.

Eventually, the agency and Toyota received a total of 153 complaints about the issue while the company issued five service bulletins to dealers, in all, dealing with the stability control system.

In April 2009, the investigation was upgraded to an engineering analysis, so the agency could examine the “scope, frequency and safety-related consequences” of the problem, according to the N.H.T.S.A documents.

In December, the agency asked Toyota for more in-depth information about the issue, which the automaker provided to the agency in February.

Toyota said it would begin mailing letters in late May to Sequoia owners, including those whose vehicles had already been serviced. It said it would reimburse those who paid to replace the engine control unit.

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