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Toyota issues recall announcement affecting 880,000 vehicles

May 2005-Toyota Motor Corp. said it is recalling about 880,000 sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks worldwide because of a defect that could affect steering. In the United States, 774,856 Toyota SUVs and pickup trucks have been recalled, including the 2001-2004 model years of the Tacoma, the 2001-2002 versions of the 4Runner and the 2002-2004 model years of the Tundra and Sequoia. Toyota's recall announcement also affects 22,000 vehicles in Japan, 22,000 vehicles in Europe, 14,000 vehicles in Australia and 10,800 vehicles throughout the rest of the world. Read More

SUV Rollover Breaking News

Toyota Handling Recall Sets New Bar for Stability Remedy

Reprinted from Strategic Safety News, Vol. 5, Issue 2, March/April 2002

Copyright © Strategic Safety, LLC, 2002

In an unusual move Toyota submitted a defect information report to NHTSA on January 18, 2002, stating that it was recalling more than 273,000 1996 through early model year 1998 4Runner SUVs to replace rear suspension components to remedy "directional stability" problems. The Toyota recall is unique because the company is addressing a stability defect in the absence of a failed component.

Past NHTSA defect precedents surrounding stability issues limit the agency to dealing with specific characteristics of a vehicle that would set it apart from peer models. Because most compact and mid-size SUVs handle in much the same way, a defect finding related to handling and stability is unlikely, as evidenced by NHTSA’s recent decision not to investigate the Explorer oversteer handling problem that was requested by Firestone (SSN Vol. 5, Issue 1). One of the most significant precedents in this area was the agency’s 1990 decision to deny a petition for a defect investigation into the Bronco II. NHTSA concluded that a finding that the Bronco II had a handling-related defect would have eliminated a class of vehicles, as the vehicle did not handle much worse than other similar SUVs.

Toyota’s recall was said to have been prompted by testing and analyses by the company in which it noted that "specific severe steering maneuvers" in vehicles loaded to rear gross axle weight rating and gross vehicle weight rating can cause stability problems and subsequent loss of control. Toyota claims the problem only affects 2-wheel-drive versions, but to avoid public confusion will include the 4-wheel-drive models in the recall. According to the manufacturer, late 1998 to 2002 models are not affected.

To remedy the handling defect, Toyota’s recall requires replacement of the rear coil springs, adds a hollow spring in the center of the coils, and replaces the rear spring bumper with a revised version. The new springs are shortened "to keep the vehicle height within standard range."

Toyota’s testing, performed in October through December 2001, may have been done in response to the Ford/Firestone investigation and NHTSA’s evaluation of the Firestone request to examine the Explorer oversteer handling condition. While NHTSA decided that it would not pursue an investigation into the Explorer for specific handling problems, the Toyota recall raises the bar for how manufacturers may be expected to address certain stability issues with their vehicles.

There have been numerous recalls related to stability; however, most were initiated as the result of failed or broken components (i.e., wheel separation, suspension component breakage, steering linkage failures, etc.), not due to specific design-related stability problems. In the U.S., Volkswagen changed that in 1999 when it offered to recall its sports car the Audi TT because of directional stability problems when driving at very high speeds (higher than the legal limits). The VW recall prescribed the replacement of stabilizer bars, modified control arms, firmer shocks and the addition of a rear spoiler. Preceding the 1999 VW recall, Mercedes recalled its 1997 A-Class micro car after journalists rolled the vehicle in the Swedish "elk avoidance" test. The A-Class, sold only in European and South American markets at the time, was retrofitted with stiffer tires, electronic traction control, a modified suspension that included new stabilizers and shocks, and the body was lowered to improve its center of gravity.

NHTSA has had little effect on the light truck rollover problem—there is no minimum stability standard and little can be done from the defects area—despite data that show rollover fatalities account for approximately 29 percent of all light vehicle fatalities and are second in severity only after frontal crashes. Combined with the absence of a minimum stability requirement

Not surprisingly, rollover is particularly acute in light trucks and vans. NHTSA estimates indicate that for all types of collisions, these vehicles are in 68 percent as many crashes per registered vehicle as passenger cars; however, for rollover crashes, LTV’s account for 127 percent as many crashes per registered vehicle as passenger cars.

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