U.S. House Committees Expand Probes into Toyota Safety Issues

The House Energy Committee has broadened its probe into whether or not a connection exists between accelerator and brake problems reported on some Toyota vehicles.

In a letter sent on February 3, the committee has asked Toyota to provide it with a briefing by February 16 to help it determine whether there is any relationship between the brake performance issues in 2010 Prius vehicles and the reported instances of sudden unintended acceleration alleged to have occurred in other Toyota models.” The letter requested documents dating back to 2000.

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it had initiated its own preliminary investigation of more than 100 consumer complaints in which owners of the 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid reported experiencing braking problems while driving on bumpy road surfaces.

Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight has said that the automaker is cooperating with the NHTSA in its efforts.

In addition to the request by the House Energy Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has also asked Toyota to explain why its recall of Tacoma pickups considered only the possibility of accelerator pedals becoming trapped by floor mats when it had received numerous complaints from owners who claimed their vehicles were not equipped with floor mats.

Last October, some 4 million Toyota vehicles, including 2005-2010 model-year Tacoma pickups, were recalled after the automaker claimed that loose driver-side floor mats had interfered with accelerator pedals resulting in unintentional acceleration. Toyota did not include the Tacoma in last month’s recall aimed at repairing defective accelerator pedal mechanisms.

In its February 3 letter, the House Energy Committee pointed out that Toyota’s Tacoma pickups are equipped with accelerator pedal assemblies manufactured by Denso Corporation. All other vehicles included in last October’s recall were equipped with accelerator mechanisms supplied by CTS Corporation.

The letter, which was signed by Committee chairman Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) posed the question, What would explain episodes such as this, where drivers are experiencing an uncontrollable acceleration and, reportedly, no floor mats are present in the vehicle (or they reported the floor mat was not involved), particularly for this make and model where no CTS pedal is involved?

Knight said, NHTSA conducted six investigations of acceleration in Toyotas over the past decade and did not find any cause other than floor mat entrapment and the latest, the sticking pedal.

In one complaint, the owner of a 2005 Tacoma which was not equipped with floor mats wrote, “The truck was accelerating and I was literally standing on the brake and engine was racing and would not stop. The complainant went on to claim that when he shifted the vehicle into neutral, it sounded like it was going to explode!

Rep. Towns has scheduled a hearing for February 10. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Toyota Motor North America Chief Operating Officer Yoshimi Inada are expected to testify.

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