Consumer Fraud

Toyota, NHTSA to investigate engine stall in Corollas

While Toyota Corollas have the potential to accelerate suddenly and unintentionally, now there is mounting concern that they may also do the opposite: stall out while in motion.

On March 2, 2010, a Toyota executive sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requesting a meeting with regulators to discuss investigating the possibility that electronic system flaws create a stall risk in about 1.2 million Corollas.

Chris Santucci, Toyota’s regulatory manager who used to work for NHTSA, told NHTSA officials in the letter that “Toyota does not believe that the alleged defect creates an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”

But if that’s the case, it seems unlikely that Toyota would preempt an investigation of potential defects, given its history of disregarding consumer complaints and evading U.S. regulators on sudden acceleration issues.

In its push to become the world’s number one automaker, Toyota abandoned its core principles of quality and integrity. After several years of making profits its top priority, the automaker ultimately achieved its goal when it claimed the top spot in global auto sales. At the same time, however, Toyota was earning another distinction for itself — the auto maker with the most recalls and the most recalled vehicles.

The company has recalled 8.5 million vehicles in just the last five months, and more are likely on the way, as this latest action suggests.

NHTSA officials say that their agency has received 26 complaints of engine stall in 2005, 2006, and 2007 Corolla and Matrix model years. So far, investigations have pointed to failures in the electronic control unit, or ECU. Cracks in soldered joints or electrical shorts could cause the engines to shut down without warning or fail to start, Toyota said.

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether electronic controls are also responsible for some of the sudden, unintended acceleration incidents that led to Toyota’s massive recalls.