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Mounting questions as Congress investigates Toyota

Mounting questions as Congress investigates Toyota


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Posted on February 22, 2010 at 11:42 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 22 at 11:44 PM

Today Congress begins hearings on the Toyota safety recalls. And the car manufacturer may have even more questions to answer following another ABC News investigation.

A Southern Illinois University professor claims “A flaw in the design of Toyota's electronic acceleration system prevents the car's onboard computer from detecting and stopping certain short circuits that can trigger sudden speed surges.”

As a result, Gilbert told ABC News, the Toyota computers will not record an error code, nor will they activate the "fail safe" system designed to shut down the power and put the car in the "limp home" mode.

"This is a dangerous condition, it is not fail safe," said Gilbert

You can watch the full story here.

Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, is expected to testify before Congress Wednesday. But the company posted this statement on its website last night:

“Toyota spoke with Mr. Gilbert on February 16 in an effort to understand his concerns.  During this discussion, Mr. Gilbert explained that he had connected a resistor between the output wires of the two accelerator pedal sensors on a Toyota Tundra.  In other words, he had artificially introduced an abnormal connection between two otherwise independent signals coming from the accelerator pedal sensors.  Mr. Gilbert advised Toyota that he believed that his intentional misdirection of these signals could cause the vehicle to accelerate unexpectedly.

In response to Mr. Gilbert's claim as communicated to Toyota, Toyota confirmed that what Mr. Gilbert described would not cause unintended acceleration to occur.  In fact, under the abnormal condition described last week by Mr. Gilbert, if there is a short with low resistance between the two signals, the electronic throttle control system illuminates the "check engine" light and the vehicle enters into a fail-safe mode of engine idle operation.  If there is a short with high resistance, outside the range of "check engine" light illumination, the accelerator pedal continues to be responsive to driver input and the vehicle will return to the idle condition when the foot is taken off of the accelerator pedal.  Unintended acceleration would not occur.

After watching the story today on ABC News featuring Mr. Gilbert, Toyota was surprised to learn that Mr. Gilbert appears now to be making a different claim regarding the electronic throttle control system and in a vehicle other than as described to Toyota last week.  Although it is difficult to tell from the footage used in the story, Mr. Gilbert appears to be introducing a different external and artificial method to manipulate the throttle.  In order to set the record straight, Toyota welcomes the opportunity to evaluate the Toyota Avalon shown in today's story and the method by which Mr. Gilbert allegedly caused the vehicle to accelerate unintentionally.  We welcome the attendance of ABC News at any such evaluation of this vehicle and Mr. Gilbert's testing.”

This follows concerns that Toyota reportedly touted how much money it saved keeping the recall on floor mats small. That document is one of the many Congress has been looking into.

USA Today reports Toyota plans to defend its recall actions, pointing to one of its more recent recalls involving thousands of Toyota Tacomas.

According to USA Today, “A supplier, Dana Holding of Maumee, Ohio, told the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration on Feb. 11 that less than 2% of driveshaft yokes — a connector part — on 34,134 vehicles could be cracked. Toyota issued a recall the next day of about 8,000 Tacomas that use the part. Two other makers using the yoke, Ford Motor and Nissan, did not.”

Ford and Nissan give different reasons for not issuing a recall but neither believes the driveshaft issue poses a danger in the trucks saying:

Ford. The 14,302 suspect parts are only in all-wheel-drive versions of the Ford Escape small SUV. Spokesman Said Deep says the shaft engages only when the all-wheel drive is activated, typically a small percentage of driving time, and it carries less than the full brunt of the power.

•Nissan. The 11,195 yokes are in use on a range of pickups and SUVs, but Nissan found that even if they were to fail, the shaft would fall harmlessly on a chassis crossbar, posing no danger to the vehicle or passengers. Drivers would know the part failed: "It's going to make a heck of a noise," says spokesman Colin Price.

You can read the full USA Today report here.