U.S. reviews 1.6M Corolla cars for safety issue

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it is reviewing a petition by a car owner that claims sudden unintended acceleration in up to 1.6 million Toyota Corollas.

The auto safety agency said it is opening a formal review of a Sept. 11 petition seeking a full investigation of “low-speed surging” in 2006-2010 Corollas in which brakes fail to stop the car in time to prevent a crash. The unnamed owner of a 2010 Corolla alleges that while parking, the Toyota collided with another parked car.

The petition said a review of the NHTSA database found 163 reports in which drivers experienced low-speed power surges in the cars.

NHTSA’s initial review found that some of the reports were not applicable or were counted more than once. The agency said its review found 141 vehicles that are within the scope of the petition request. However, the agency will evaluate all 163 complaints.

NHTSA spent years investigating millions of Toyota vehicles for unintended acceleration issues linked to faulty floor mats and other issues. Toyota in 2009 bragged internally about initially saving $100 million by avoiding a mechanical fix and only recalling 55,000 floor mats. After four people were killed in crash linked to an accelerator pedal that had been trapped by a floor mat, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide because of the issue in 2009 and 2010.

In March, Toyota paid a $1.2 billion fine to the Justice Department after it was charged with wire fraud. Toyota admitted it misled U.S. consumers by concealing and making deceptive statements to both consumers and regulators about the extent of sudden acceleration problems in 2009 and 2010, the Justice Department said, adding that Toyota minimized problems, misled regulators and provided inaccurate facts to Congress.

Toyota has radically revamped its safety practices since its recall crisis briefly forced the automaker to halt sales of nearly half of its vehicles and led to the company’s president, Akio Toyoda, to appear before Congress to apologize for the company’s handling of safety issues. The company’s safety reputation has dramatically rebounded and it has won high marks in recent quality surveys.

Toyota has settled numerous other suits connected to the problem, including a class-action settlement covering as many as 22 million current and former Toyota owners over sudden acceleration claims valued at as much as $1.63 billion.

NHTSA has been investigating other claims of unintended acceleration.

In June, NHTSA said it was investigating 360,000 2012-2014 Nissan Versa cars after receiving four complaints in the U.S. that a trim panel had trapped the edge of the driver’s shoe. A fifth complaint was filed by a driver in a foreign country.

A complaint filed June 9 said a driver had to use their right hand to grab their leg and pull their foot free, almost causing a crash. The complainant included a photograph showing how the edge of the panel wedged itself in the driver’s work boot.

In May, Ford Motor Co. said it was recalling 82,500 driver’s side all-weather Ford floor mats that may be in 2006-11 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and MKZ cars. If improperly installed, the mats may come in contact with the accelerator pedal. Owners were asked to return the mats for a new set.

NHTSA has been investigating the floor mat issue for four years. The agency said it had 52 reports of problems with floor mats in its investigation of 480,000 2008-10 Fusion, Milan and MKZ cars. After NHTSA told Ford it was recommending a recall, Ford opted to recall the vehicles.