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Toyota knew of sticky-throttle problem late last year

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Toyota knew of sticky-throttle problem late last year

By James R. Healey, USA TODAY

Toyota says it knew there were problems with accelerator-pedal assemblies from supplier CTS late last year, but not enough to warrant a recall.

The automaker says it hurriedly announced last Thursday a planned recall of 2.3 million Toyotas, back to 2005 models, because the defect trend had picked up. "The quickness that this all came together is one reason why I don't have numbers" of complaints, the automaker's U.S. safety spokesman, John Hanson, says. "And why we don't have a fix."

DRIVE ON: Q&A on Toyota recall

The recall includes an unspecified number of 2009-10 Pontiac Vibes, designed and built by Toyota for General Motors' now- discontinued Pontiac brand. Vibe is similar to the Toyota Matrix that's part of the recall.

Toyota did not identify Vibe in its announcement of the recall. GM made no announcement, but confirmed Vibe is included.

GM spokesman Alan Adler says: "We do not typically do pre-recall announcements. We tend to wait until there is something that can be done," before notifying owners.

Hanson has said it could be weeks before Toyota determines a remedy and gets it approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Toyota ™ says it has no direct reports of injuries or deaths. But the day Toyota announced the recall, ABC News broadcast a report, prepared before the recall announcement, linking the problem to four deaths (http://abcnews.go.com/blotter).

The car company says that the latest sticking-throttle recall is separate from one it announced in November. That one involved 4.3 million Toyota and Lexus models. Their gas pedals might get caught under floor mats and send the cars out of control.

That problem is linked to the death of off-duty California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and three family members Aug. 28.

"I think it's questionable" whether the two recalls are separate, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for TrueCar.com, an auto-pricing and industry-tracking site.

Toyota says 1.7 million vehicles are affected by both recalls. Toprak notes that Toyota first identified the previous recall as a floor mat issue, then said the accelerator pedals themselves were partly at fault. Now, most vehicles in the sticking-throttle recall announced Thursday also are involved in the November recall.

"Their biggest error was not to do a deep dive into the issue last year," Toprak says.

Toyota says the potentially faulty pedals came from a CTS facility in Streetsville, Ontario. CTS has not returned calls asking for comment.

Toyota says drivers whose throttles stick open should shift into neutral, pull off the road and call a dealer. Dealers have been told to help on a "case-by-case basis," until Toyota can fix the problem.

Adler says GM dealers would do so, too. He says that no Vibe owners have reported the problem. Adler says the recall repairs will be made by GM's Buick and GMC dealers.

Toyota won't say how much leeway dealers have — whether, for example, they can install new pedal assemblies, or provide long-term loaner cars until there is a recall remedy.

Toyota says the problem appears to be due to premature wear of some mechanical parts in the CTS throttle assemblies. Hanson says that means new vehicles should be risk-free, at least long enough for Toyota to come up with a fix.

Throttle-pedal assemblies from Toyota's other supplier, Denso, are not all interchangeable, eliminating that as a quick-fix solution, Toyota says.

CTS also supplies throttle assemblies to Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Those companies say their designs are different and pose no risk of sticking open.

Hanson says the first symptom of the latest throttle problem is when the gas pedal feels rough, instead of smooth, when the driver presses down. The next stage: The throttle pedal doesn't return promptly when the driver lets off. Finally, the throttle sticks open even after the driver's foot is removed.

Hanson says drivers should contact dealers if they experience the first step and not wait for the gas pedal to begin working sluggishly. "We don't want that vehicle on the road, and we want to keep that owner mobile. We'll do whatever we can on a case-by-case basis," Hanson says.

Toyota continues selling models involved in the recall, expecting that they work fine because they are new and the throttles don't seem to begin sticking until the vehicle ages, Hanson says.



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