Time for Another Toyota Timeliness Query

When NHTSA went after Toyota with a $16.4 million stick for failing to recall sticking accelerator pedals within the five-day regulatory time limit, Attorney John Kristensen couldn’t help notice the parallels between the automaker’s mañana attitude toward U.S. recalls in the 2010 pedal campaign and in a 2005 recall of defective relay rods.

Today, Kristensen, an attorney with The O’Reilly||Collins Law Firm asked NHTSA administration to launch a Timeliness Query into Recall 05V389 to replace defective steering relay rods in Toyota pickups and 4Runners.

(And the thud you just heard was that other shoe dropping we mentioned back in October. See Troubles Mount in Toyotaville.)

According to a chronology of the sticking CTS accelerator pedals campaigns, Toyota launched a silent recall for the in UK and Ireland in June 2009, followed by a full EU Technical Service Bulletin in September. Toyota didn’t announce a U.S. recall of the same component until January 21, 2010. Toyota said that the UK and Ireland got the fix first, due to the unique combination of the British weather and the right-hand drive configuration:

“The trend that emerged in the judgment of these personnel was that the phenomenon seemed to occur during the winter in circumstances of high humidity in right hand drive models (in the U.K. and Ireland). TMC personnel had reproduced the phenomenon in April 2009, first on a recovered part and then in a laboratory setting using a full vehicle. In June 2009, the phenomenon was replicated in a test drive at TMC’s Reliability Testing Group. The collective thinking was that condensation, along with wear of the friction lever assembly, likely caused accelerator pedal sticking and that the phenomenon occurred in right hand drive vehicles because the heater duct outputs directly towards the accelerator pedal, causing condensation inside the colder pedal assembly,” Toyota said in a submission to NHTSA’s TQ10-002.

This was an explanation Toyota had had some success with in the past. In October 2004, the automaker disclosed to NHTSA that it had recalled Hilux and Hilux Surf vehicles sold in Japan for defective relay rods – but not its U.S. counterparts, Toyota 4Runner, the Toyota Truck and Toyota T100. The rods had a tendency to snap, leaving the driver with no steering controls. But Toyota blamed it on driving conditions unique to the Japanese market:

“TMC has received field information from the Japanese market, but no similar information from the U.S. market has been received. In addition to the different steering linkage design between the right hand drive and the left hand drive vehicles, TMC believes that the unique operation conditions in Japan, such as frequent standing full lock turns, such as for narrow parking spaces and close quarters maneuvering, greatly affects the occurrence of this problem.”

On September 6, 2005, Toyota finally recalled the defective steering relay rods on 977, 839 1989-1995 Toyota pick ups and 4Runners in the U.S.

In the course of litigation, Kristensen found out that Toyota’s claim in October 2004 that it had no reports of relay rod failures in the U.S. was false. Toyota had actually received at least 44 reports in the U.S. since as early as 2000, including crashes involving rollovers and injuries – not to mention a slew of warranty repairs for broken relay rods. And Toyota’s U.S. recall resulted in an unusually low 30 percent return rate.  In 2007, the company issued an even more unusual recall re-notification, fearing NHTSA would notice that so few consumers had gotten the fix.  All of this was too late for 18-year-old Levi Stewart of Idaho, who was killed in a crash caused by a relay rod failure in September 2007. Stewart had bought the used vehicle months earlier.  Stewart’s family received the recall re-notification weeks after Levi’s death.

The only difference between the relay rod campaign and the accelerator pedal recall? So far, in the latter case, Toyota has gotten away with waiting a year before giving American consumer relief.