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Facts and figures on Toyota’s car recall

by Natsuko Fukue

Toyota Motor Corp.’s recalls that started last September have involved millions of cars around the world. Safety concerns over Toyota cars have mounted, in the U.S. in particular, after a sudden uncontrolled acceleration killed an off-duty highway patrolman who was driving a Lexus ES350, along with three members of his family, in California last August.

While the investigation into the sudden acceleration incidents is ongoing, the automaker has also started recalling hybrid models in Japan.

Following are questions and answers related to Toyota’s recent problems and the recalls:

What are the problems that necessitated the recalls of Toyota cars?

Toyota first ordered a large recall of rubber floor mats in the U.S. last September because the company said they were at risk of trapping the accelerator pedal on certain models.

Some U.S. drivers also claimed the accelerator pedal was sticky. This led to a massive worldwide recall because the same pedals are used in cars sold in North America, Europe, China, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

A third issue dogging Toyota is the brakes in the latest Prius and other hybrid cars. According to Toyota, Prius models with an antilock brake system will stop 0.06 second later than cars with conventional brakes if the car is running at 20 kph on an icy road and the driver hits the brakes gently.

How many complaints have been reported in Japan and the U.S.?

According to a Toyota spokeswoman, the company had received 84 brake-related complaints in Japan by early February. The number of complaints to the transport ministry jumped to 97 in February from 13 in January, an official in the ministry’s safety policy division said.

The complaints include seven accidents in which no injuries were reported. “The complaints increased after the wide media coverage,” the official said.

In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received around 1,100 complaints on 2010 Prius brakes in mid-February, up from about 100 at the beginning of the month, according to its records. Of those, there were 34 reported crashes and six nonfatal injuries.

What is the cause of the sudden acceleration problem?

Many U.S. media outlets speculate that the cause may be Toyota’s electronic throttle-control system, or ETCS, because the floor mat issue and the accelerator pedals themselves do not explain the problem adequately.

The ETCS, which controls the operation of accelerator and engine by computer, is widely used in cars these days.

Toyota recently announced that its throttle unit is not defective. Independent investigators are still examining the system.

Denying a link between the acceleration problem and sticky pedals, parts maker CTS, which manufactures the pedals for Toyota, said in a press release in January that its pedals should not be linked with the uncontrolled acceleration incidents because the reports date back to 1999, before the manufacturer began making the pedals.

How many sudden acceleration-related deaths have been reported in the U.S.?

NHTSA has reportedly received complaints on 34 fatalities connected to the problem since 2000.

How many cars have been recalled so far?

Toyota has globally recalled more than 8 million. In Japan, the carmaker issued a recall of 223,068 hybrids to repair the brake problem. Additionally, it will soon start recalls on hybrids in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, with the number expected to reach around 400,000 vehicles.

Which models are under recall?

For the floor mat problem, the vehicles under recall in the U.S. are the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2004-2009 Prius, the 2005-2010 Tacoma, the 2007-2010 Tundra, the 2008-2010 Highlander, the 2009-2010 VENZA, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250, the 2006-2010 Lexus IS 350, and the 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350, according to the Toyota recall information Web site.

To fix sticky accelerator pedals, the manufacturer announced the recall of eight models: the 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Carolla, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra, and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.

The third-generation Prius and 2010 Lexus HS 250h will be recalled to upgrade their brake systems.

In Europe, the vehicles affected are the 2005-2009 AYGO, the 2008-2009 iQ, the 2005-2009 Yaris, the 2006-2010 Auris, the 2006-2009 Carolla, the 2009-2010 Verso, the 2008-2009 Avensis, the 2005-2009 RAV4 and the 2010 Prius.

In Japan, four models — the latest Prius, the Lexus HS250s, the Sai compact sedan and the plug-in Prius hybrid, which all have a similar braking system — are under recall.

What is Toyota going to do to fix the problems?

Vehicles with a Toyota or Lexus all-weather floor mat will get a reconfigured accelerator pedal and redesigned driver-side and front-passenger-side floor mats.

To repair the sticky gas pedal, Toyota engineers are installing a precision-cut steel reinforcement bar into the accelerator pedal assembly. This should eliminate the friction that caused the pedal to stick.

Prius brakes will be repaired by updating the software, which should improve the brake system’s response time and sensitivity to slippage.