The complaints raise new questions about whether Toyota's remedy will solve the problem. David Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a statement that the agency is reaching out to consumers about the complaints "to get to the bottom of the problem and to make sure Toyota is doing everything possible to make its vehicles safe."Toyota has insisted that the problem was related to mechanical problems and that the floor mats interfered with the accelerator but now says that they'll look into electronic causes (whether due to outside interference or internal software issues).
"If Toyota owners are still experiencing sudden acceleration incidents after taking their cars to the dealership, we want to know about it," Strickland said.
The government has received a limited number of acceleration reports from the Toyota owners whose floor mats or gas pedals have been fixed. Toyota and the government are investigating potential electrical problems as part of the Japanese automaker's recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide.
The NHTSA has linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by Toyota's acceleration problems. The company has blamed mechanical causes or drivers pressing the wrong pedal and repaired about 1 million vehicles, but has said it is looking into electronics as a potential cause.
Toyota fixes to date include recalls relating to adjusting the floor mats, shaving down the profile of the accelerator and inserting a metal shim into the accelerator.
The problem is that these don't take into account a potential flaw in the electronics that control the accelerator and braking systems.
What is most likely needed is a fix that allows any driver that taps on the brake to immediately send a signal to disengage the accelerator. That's a proposal that the Obama Administration is suggesting for the entire industry, and it would be worth considering given that all the major carmakers have seen issues with accelerators. Congress ignored this issue when grilling Toyota, rather than tackling the fact that other models. Many times, the sudden acceleration issue is due to driver error in hitting the gas instead of the brake, but that only makes tracking down the cause in individual cases all the more difficult. It also explains why it was difficult for companies and organizations that rate the vehicles like Consumers Reports were unable to find such problems in their reviews of the cars and repair data.
Also, the NHTSA review that initiates investigations varies widely; in some instances it will take 5 complaints to initiate an investigation, but in other cases, 1,500.
"Edmunds.com's analysis of NHTSA data shows no clear pattern in terms of the number of consumer complaints that trigger an agency investigation. As few as five complaints have triggered an investigation; other investigations haven't started until 1,500 complaints had accumulated," noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs in her report NHTSA on the Hot Seat: What is Standard Operating Procedure? on AutoObserver.com.NHTSA needs to be evaluated for how well it oversees car safety in the country, and whether it gave some carmakers a break and whether it is now overly grilling Toyota compared to other carmakers with similar problems.
The report points out that between 2005 and 2010, steering problems on Chevrolet Cobalt were the subject of 1,157 complaints while Toyota Corolla steering problems were the subject of 84 complaints. According to Edmunds.com's reading of the steering complaints on both vehicles, the complaints about the Cobalt's steering are far more serious and more dangerous than are the complaints about the Corolla's steering. NHTSA recently opened official investigations of both vehicles.
Edmunds.com's analysis of NHTSA defects investigation data — from 1990 to the present — shows that once an investigation is launched, it takes an average of 262 days to conclude and result in a recall. However, the range has varied from an investigation that lasted a mere 10 days to another that languished for six years.
"Many of the complaints are actively discussed on Edmunds' CarSpace.com, the auto industry's most established online community, so neither the automaker nor NHTSA can claim ignorance of the issues that potentially make our roads less safe," commented Sylvia Marino, Executive Director of Community for Edmunds.com.