It’s Complicated: Concerned Citizen Drops a Dime on Toyota

As we all should have learned nine years ago from the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire maelstrom, it’s not often just one thing that creates a catastrophe of epic proportions.  Defect issues that rise to the top of the charts are frequently the result of a multitude of problems that align to create a widespread hazard.

Toyota Sudden Acceleration in Reverse

Earlier this week, The Safety Record reported another Toyota SUA incident involving a 2007 Avalon and a New Jersey driver who managed to get his over-accelerating vehicle to the dealership with smoking brakes and an engine at full throttle. For those of you who missed it:

This owner had experienced several unintended acceleration incidents – incidents in which the vehicle accelerated without driver input.  The most recent occurred on Dec. 29 as he drove on the highway. The man was unable to stop the vehicle with the brakes alone, but he was able to shift the vehicle into Neutral. As the engine continued to race to full-throttle, he immediately called the local Toyota dealer, about two miles away, to alert them he was bringing the vehicle to their lot.  He drove the car to the dealer by shifting from Neutral to Drive, foot on the brake, with the engine at full throttle.

“I don’t where I got the nerve, but it sure felt good.”

So says Christina Catalano, after her brief confrontation with Chrysler CEO Sergio Marcchione at a dinner yesterday night sponsored by Automotive News World Congress, as part of the North America International Auto Show in Detroit.

Catalano is the daughter of Linda Catalano who died on August 3, 2008.  The 55-year-old mother and grandmother had completed a garage sale and had left her home several blocks away to collect the remaining sale signs along the road.  She evidently stopped the vehicle along the roadway to pick up a sign.  She placed her vehicle into what she must have believed to be Park and opened the door and stepped out of the Chrysler Mini-Van to pick up her signs, with the engine running and the driver’s side door open.  The vehicle then “self-shifted” into reverse, knocking Catalano to the ground and dragging her underneath the left front tire, where it pinned her.

CPSC Workshop on Building a Public Database Less Adversarial

The tone was less adversarial and more collegial as the U.S. Product Safety Commission held its first public workshop (see The End of the World as We Know it!) on the establishment of a Public Consumer Product Safety Incident Database this week.

Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration Complaints Update

Safety Research & Strategies has completed our latest review of Toyota unintended acceleration complaint data.  Our database consists of incidents from the following sources:

Toyota Pedal Fix Dress Rehearsal

In early December 2005, Toyota learned of two early model Lexus IS250 with accelerator pedals “out of tolerance” – meaning the pedal could become stuck. One instance occurred during a dealer pre-delivery inspection and a second was reported by Toyota Canada during transportation at the port facility. The automaker had received no complaints in the U.S. or Canada.

Nonetheless, Toyota was on it like a shot:

Toyota announces a Fix for Sudden Acceleration: Focus on Stuck Mats

After years of applying band aids to its Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem, Toyota will finally offer a vehicle-based remedy to fix SUA problems involving floor mats that can entrap the accelerator pedals in eight Toyota and Lexus models.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this morning that

Toyota plans to reconfigure the accelerator pedal on 3.8 million vehicles going back to the 2004 model year.  Other fixes include modifying the floor area around the pedal and in some models, installing a brake-to-idle override that allows the driver to quickly stop a vehicle in an unintended acceleration incident and newly-designed replacement driver- and front-passenger side all-weather mats.

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby! The Pneumatic Tire

Have you heard the one about The Pneumatic Tire? If you’re involved in tire litigation, the defense may have waved this august tome in front of a judge claiming that it is the Tire Bible handed down from on high by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, itself.

And this would be somewhat true. In 2005 NHTSA did contract J.D. Walter and Alan Gent of the University of Akron to act as assembling editors for a low-budget update of the 1981 edition of the Mechanics of Pneumatic Tires. With a total project cost of $89,575, Walter and Gent recruited top-level executives in the tire industry – including the good folks at Cooper Tire—to serve as authors and members of the editorial board.  The work was to have been thoroughly vetted at the agency, but according to several sources, NHTSA passed a very light hand over the project and the final version consisted of a wholesale borrowing from the original, complete with decades old data, with some new chapters added to reflect technological advances.

The End of the World as We Know it

The very best consumer products complaints database would be one which allows manufacturers to thoroughly vet each complaint – no matter how many years it takes; one that would be accessible to the public, unless that member of the public is a plaintiff’s attorney or a reporter; or one that prohibits complaints that might tarnish an industry’s reputation. In other words, a database that preserves the status quo.

NHTSA Pronounces and Toyota Pounces: It’s the Floor Mats, Stupid

Showing admirable restraint, Toyota waited a whole five days before trumpeting the closing of Defect Petition 09-001 as proof positive “that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.”

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