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Documents show NHTSA closed 2007 probe of runaway Toyota acceleration even though it knew the problem was 'dangerous'

The document dump on the Toyota problems continues, damaging now not just Toyota but the Transportation Department's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Representatives of each will be called before House panels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In the most recent documents to come out of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, NHTSA is shown to have dropped its investigation of unintended acceleration in Toyotas in 2007 without finding a defect in the vehicles.

This, despite saying that the the problem causes "extremely dangerous" situations for Toyota drivers and saying that more problems are likely to come. In 2009 and earlier this year, Toyota recalled nearly 6 million vehicles to fix unintended acceleration problems.

“Imagine if a doctor gave a patient a clean bill of health because he couldn’t diagnose the illness but recognized there were symptoms," said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who will grill Toyota and NHTSA officials on Wednesday. "Two years ago, government regulators became aware of consumer complaints of unwanted acceleration and the best answer they could come up with was saying it was a floor mat issue. Now, three years later, we are asking the same questions that should have been answered in the first place. Instead, government regulators closed the investigation."

Some of the highlights from the NHTSA documents obtained by the Oversight and Government Reform committee:

-- When NHTSA tested the act of trapping the gas pedal wide open with a floor mat, it took 150 pounds of force applied to the brake to get the car to stop. This compares with 30 pounds of force under normal circumstances. This action increased the stopping distance from less than 200 feet to more than 1,000 feet.

-- The Lexus ES350 does not have an ignition switch to turn off. It has a button you push to start the car. If you depress and hold the button for three seconds, the engine will switch off. But finding that out in a panic at 80 mph is not the optimal time.

-- 59 of 600 ES350 owners who responded to a NHTSA survey said they had experienced unintended acceleration. That's 10 percent.

-- "Toyota believes the subject vehicles and the all-weather mat do not contain a safety related defect and that the actions they have taken are sufficient to address any future concerns," NHTSA wrote. This line comes in the same report where NHTSA describes five crashes, four of which involved multiple vehicles and one which resulted in a rollover. The report says that Toyota "acknowledges that some of the alleged incidents are likely related to improper installation of driver side all weather floor mat resulting interference with accelerator pedal movement."

-- Another report noted a July 2007 fatal crash in which a Toyota gas pedal was stuck open for eight miles on a California interstate, accelerating the vehicle to speeds of more than 100 mph, until it crashed into two other vehicles, killing an occupant in one of the struck vehicles.

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By Frank Ahrens  |  February 22, 2010; 6:34 PM ET
Categories:  Congress , Corporations , The Ticker  | Tags: Darrell Issa, Toyota problems, toyota, toyota recall model and years, unintended acceleration  
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Next: Rep. Engel asks pointed questions of Toyota, expresses doubts


The incidents described here alone sound like serious crimes.

Posted by: revbookburn | February 22, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

What a crock. If America cared even the slightest about failures in anything, Congress would be in flames. This BS is not going to revive the American auto industry.

Posted by: whizkidz1 | February 22, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Current events are merely the tip of an iceberg. Toyota is still stonewalling about oil sludge, and over 3,000 customers have signed a petition in protest.

Its outrageous when an agency charged with traffic safety won't consider defects that cause an engine to sludge up and suddenly stall - perhaps on the Interstate - a safety hazzard. How good it is to see the NHTSA gettin' exposed right along with Toyota.

Posted by: ParrisBoyd | February 22, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

The true meaning of congressional oversight - is that they overlook all problems from automotive, banking, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, insurance, etc. etc. etc.

As long as the corrupt minions of "K" Street donate a few hundred thousand to members of congress and their re-election campaigns - big business has nothing to fear from congressional oversight - unless they are baseball players on steroids. Then they really raise a big stink.

Our economic woes are a direct result of the lack of congressional oversight from Chris Dodd and Barney Frank.

Posted by: alance | February 22, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Yes! The engine oil sludge problem is most definitely safety-related. Toyota owners tell some harrowing stories about engines suddenly stopping on the highway. Engine fires have resulted when vehicles were in motion, too. However, the NHTSA closed an investigation of the engine fires rather quickly. Shouldn't Congress be looking beyond the SUA problem to find out what else Toyota has hidden from public view? Toyota's behavior hasn't changed in over a decade...hopefully, that history will be brought out clearly.

Posted by: autoresearcher | February 22, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

So..are you saying the The Bush administrations NHTSA was in cohoots with Toyota to help prop them up in an effort to shield them and sell more cars so that GM, Ford and Chrysler would fail? Thereby forcing Obama to step in and undo the damage by giving GM and Chrysler a loan and is what some now use the term loosly as Obama Motors. So does this mean that Toyota was really "BM" or Bush Motors?? Yeh..the whole mess stinks now..doesn't it. This should be interesting.

Posted by: BeaverCleavage | February 22, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Hey Toyota chumps...err....owners! How does it feel to have paid a premium for a vehicle that is no better than anyone else's?

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | February 22, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

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