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More owners of Toyota vehicles say recall repairs aren't working

Some of the more than 60 drivers reporting incidents say sudden unintended acceleration has happened to them more than once since having modifications done at dealers.

March 05, 2010|By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian

More than 60 drivers have complained of sudden acceleration incidents despite the fact that their cars were repaired by Toyota Motor Corp. in the current recalls, new data released Thursday show.

The latest figure, released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, significantly increases the total number of complaints involving repaired vehicles, which was less than 10 on Tuesday. The new complaints allege several accidents and at least three injuries resulting from runaway unintended acceleration despite the vehicles' undergoing a series of modifications at Toyota dealerships designed to resolve the issue.

In response to the rising number of complaints, federal regulators said they would contact each motorist to find out more about what happened. NHTSA also said it would ask Toyota for similar complaints it may have received from customers. The agency does not normally verify individual reports, posted anonymously on its database.

"If it appears that a remedy provided by Toyota is not addressing the problem it was intended to fix, NHTSA has the authority to order Toyota to provide a different solution," the agency said in a statement.

Toyota said that it had begun its own evaluation of the complaints, and that it was too soon to release findings. Toyota is "doing everything it can to ensure that our customers are confident in their vehicles," the company said in a statement.

The automaker has maintained that sudden unintended acceleration in its Toyota and Lexus vehicles is caused by sticking gas pedals or floor mats that can entrap the pedal, and has issued nearly 10 million recall notices for vehicles worldwide to correct the problem.

The new complaints, however, are fueling skepticism from those who think the root cause may lie in Toyota's electronics.

"These reports are extremely troubling and reinforce the serious questions raised in congressional hearings about the true cause of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles," Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce investigations subcommittee, said in letter Wednesday to the Department of Transportation and NHTSA.

If the allegations are true, he added, it could indicate "that Toyota electronics may be playing a role."

In its statement, Toyota said that the complaint evaluations it has already completed "have found no evidence of a failure of the vehicle electronic throttle control system, the recent recall remedies or the brake override feature."

One complaint involves a 2009 Matrix that was repaired Feb. 13 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Eleven days later, it spun out of control and hit a concrete median at 55 mph, according to the filing, which alleges an unspecified injury.

The owner of a 2007 Camry wrote to NHTSA saying that even after the recall repairs were made Feb. 27 at a dealership in Greensboro, N.C., the vehicle "experienced a sudden surge in acceleration twice."

The driver described racing from a standing start and also an event that occurred at highway speeds. The complaint suggests the problem is in the car's computer system.

The recalls, which affect a broad variety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles, also include the Pontiac Vibe, which was built in a joint venture between General Motors Co. and Toyota at a California plant until last summer.

One driver from Missouri complained to NHTSA of a 2009 Vibe that raced to 7,000 rpm uncommanded, causing it to lurch forward.

The owner took it to the dealership Feb. 19, where its accelerator was modified and driver's-side floor mat removed. Three days later, the complaint alleged, "the car malfunctioned again, causing a near collision."

Under its two continuing recalls, which affect about 6 million cars in the U.S., Toyota is replacing or modifying pedals, changing out floor mats, removing carpet padding and installing software designed to allow the brake to electronically override the throttle.

Earlier this week, Toyota said it had already repaired more than 1 million vehicles under the recall campaigns.

NHTSA said this week that it had received at least 52 reports of fatalities linked to sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

ken.bensinger@

latimes.com

ralph.vartabedian@

latimes.com

Times staff writer Ken Schwencke contributed to this report.

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