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U.S. government will investigate Prius brakes

UPDATED at 10:25 a.m.:

The Transportation Department will open an investigation into owner complaints about brakes on the Toyota Prius hybrid, piling onto the mounting problems at the Japanese auto giant.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced that it is opening a formal investigation of the Toyota Prius Hybrid model year 2010 to look into allegations of momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over an uneven road surface, pothole or bump," the department said in its release, posted moments ago.

The release went on to say that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke with Toyota president Akio Toyoda late Wednesday night and "reassured him" that the U.S. takes safety issues seriously. I wonder if LaHood apologized for tanking Toyota stock yesterday and instantly erasing $3 billion in company value after he said, during a Hill hearing, that Toyota owners driving vehicles affected by the recall should stop driving the cars immediately and take them to a dealer. Shortly after, LaHood said he had made a "misstatement," but that didn't help the stock much.

The Japanese government already has ordered Toyota to investigate the Prius braking system and Toyota said it will look at brakes on all of its hybrids.

I wrote about the Prius brake issues in today's Post:

Of 171 complaints filed by 2010 Prius owners with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [through Wednesday], 111 involved brake problems, the agency's database shows, and at least two led to driver injuries.

The Prius employs an unusual system known as "regenerative braking" that turns braking energy into electricity, which is pumped back into the Prius's battery. The process can feel unusual to a new Prius owner.

Whether the Prius actually has a braking problem or Prius drivers are panicking is something the Transportation Department will try to ascertain.

Shares of Toyota are down about 2 percent so far today, lower than the overall market.

Follow me on Twitter at @theticker

By Frank Ahrens  |  February 4, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Prius, Toyota recall update, brakes, hybrid, toyota recall model and years  
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Just what we need, another government inquiry and I am sure that Secretary Lahood's bunch can add a lot to the situation!

This just goes to prove that the opposite of "innovation" is "bureaucratization".

Posted by: vardo | February 4, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Anyone who has ever driven a car appreciates Toyotas and Hondas—much better performance and far greater reliability.

My first new car was a Toyota in 1970, and my only good cars ever since have been Toyotas and Honda. I've loved every one of them.

Over the years, I've occasionally bought a Detroit car, and it was always a big mistake—not well made and often breaking down. I've spend more than $4,000 on a Chrylser Town and Country for repairs.

Ford, Chrysler, and Government Motors make clunkers. Only an idiot would buy the union-made junk coming out of Detroit today.

Posted by: Jerzy | February 4, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Okay, let's just look at some facts about ABS braking: When the brakes are applied on a flat wet surface, the brakes begin stopping the car; at the first sign of wheel spin, the brakes to that specific wheel are released so the wheel does not lock-up, hence you have BETTER control of the car.

That's how they're supposed to work: In reality, there are several things that cause them to react as if they're failing, and one of those is a bumpy surface where the wheels are intermittently off the ground (bouncing). When the wheels are bouncing, the ABS system is now compromised because it 'detects' wheel spin when that wheel is floating above the pavement. So on a super bumpy surface and under hard braking, the system will not effectively stop the car as well as normal and, as a matter of fact, may not work as well as a conventional system without ABS.

No big deal. Chill.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | February 4, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone think it is at least a little unsettling that GM's owner (the US Government) can attack its main competitor (and its other competitors for that matter) with impunity? For that matter, whichever companies the US government has a major stake in will have this seemingly unfair advantage. Of course that makes up for the disadvantage of having bureaucrats tell you how to run your business while a bunch of folks who think Karl Marx was on to something kibitz via nationally televised press conferences.

Is this a conflict of interest? Are we in need of some checks and balances?

Posted by: beachnut | February 4, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Isn't this a conflict of interest since the US Governement owns a competitive Auto manufacturer, GM. This is like Ford saying they are going to investigate Chevy insn't it. I think the Government would have to hire an independant 3rd party, Toyota should suit, hahhahah what a mess...GM = Government Motors

Posted by: Texican911 | February 4, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The MADE-IN-JAPAN Prius has also been reported to have the self-acceleration problem (Nightline’s investigative report & Website of Toyota victims). One woman ended up in a river in her MADE-IN-JAPAN Prius. --- So much for Japanese “superior” Quality – IN Japan, as Toyota has used for an insulting excuse.

Who’s responsible for TOYOTA’s products?? Toyota says, “Not Toyota”.

Posted by: OneEyedViper | February 4, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Based on what I read about the Prius Brakes, it's my understanding that they fail on bumpy roads due to some kind of internal power switchover that occurs. So, if I was leading the investigation, I'd start with duplicating the cutover problem first, and then trace my way back to the break feed. But that's just me.

Posted by: jralger | February 4, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Toyota will try its best to fix the problems, but it’s going to take a lot of man-hours and overtime work. Many technicians and auto mechanics will be taking home some fat checks for the next 6 months or more.

Posted by: claybrown1 | February 4, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

As Car and Driver recently reported in their latest issue, none of these cars engines can out power their brakes.

So people letting these cars drive into rivers, lakes, ravines, over guard rails, etc. should have pressed on the brake pedal.

Posted by: 8-man | February 4, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

News results for prius recall

BBC News Toyota poised for Prius recall‎ - 11 hours ago
Toyota may be poised for a widespread recall of the latest models of its Prius hybrid cars amid a widening inquiry into brake failures that have dogged its ...

For those who possess older Toyota thoroughbreds--
Free of defects due to hybridization--
The spate of problems experienced recently
Is not exactly a startling revelation.

"Be not the first by whom the new is tried,
Nor yet the last to cast the old aside",
Put Toyota in a bind
Release from which it can't find
Hence is a decision with whose consequences it must (sadly) abide.

Posted by: Gonzage1 | February 4, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse


You sound like Toyota now.

Sure, the reason these people died and crashed into rivers to avoid death is because . . . "[they FORGOT to apply the brakes]". Do you mean the Brakes that don't work, even when NOT having the self-acceleration problem?? You may want to tell that one to the Japanese citizen who had a Head-On collision in his Prius. He said, "The brake didn't work". -- see article HERE.

Posted by: OneEyedViper | February 4, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

And I guess you didn't hear about the Lexus' Brakes - they were MELTED from "pressing the brakes".

Either you're a blatant liar, or Car & Driver needs a new editor. (I suspect the former.) No car brake can overcome 300ft-lbs of fully applied torque (or even 150).

Posted by: OneEyedViper | February 4, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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