NHTSA Launches Probe into Timeliness of Three Toyota Recalls

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today announced that it is using its statutory authority to obtain documents from Toyota to determine if the automaker conducted three of its recent recalls in a timely manner. Federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify NHTSA within five days of determining that a safety defect exists and promptly conduct a recall.

"Safety recalls are very serious matters and automakers are required to quickly report defects," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The auto safety agency is requiring Toyota to provide documents showing when and how it learned of the defects affecting approximately 6 million vehicles in the U.S. alone. The probe will examine how the manufacturer learned of these defects, such as through consumer complaints or factory testing. Investigators are also looking into whether Toyota discovered the problems during pre-production or post-production of the affected vehicles.

Officials are checking whether Toyota has covered all affected models in its recent recalls to ensure Toyota did not miss any problems. The agency will obtain information on production data, incidents, complaints, warranty complaints, copies of tests, dates of meetings, timelines, and supplier information.

The three recalls in question involve various Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Two of the recalls are related to the entrapment of gas pedals by floor mats. The first recall was announced on September 26, 2007, and was followed by a subsequent one on October 6, 2009. The October recall was expanded on January 29, 2010, to include additional vehicles. The third recall, involving sticking gas pedals, was announced on January 21, 2010. Click here for more information.

"Our top priority is safety and we expect that all manufacturers address automotive safety issues quickly and in a forthright manner," said David Strickland, Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NHTSA has the authority to seek civil penalties for a variety of violations by manufacturers, equipment suppliers, registered importers and vehicle customizers. If agency officials determine that an auto manufacturer violated its statutory obligations, the manufacturer could be liable for a maximum of $16.4 million in civil penalties.