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Posted at 8:44 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011

Results of probe of Toyota acceleration problems expected today

By Peter Whoriskey


The results of a 10-month federal probe into the possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyotas are expected to be released Tuesday afternoon, with Department of Transportation officials and scientists from NASA explaining their findings.

After thousands of complaints of unintended acceleration in 2009, Toyota recalled nearly eight million vehicles, blaming problems on two relatively simple mechanical defects: sticking accelerator pedals and floor mats that entrap the accelerator.

But experts continued to disagree whether a defect in engine electronics may have caused some of the incidents of runaway Toyotas, and critics said the increasing complexity of engines, which run on multiple microprocessors and lots of software, made it possible that a computer error could be at fault.

In some models, such as the Camry, the number of complaints of unintended acceleration appeared to jump after the cars came equipped with the new electronics, according to data presented to Congress.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began the study last March at the request of Congress and enlisted NASA engineers to conduct research into whether electromagnetic interference or electronic failures caused the reported incident of unintended acceleration.

As part of their investigation, NHTSA and NASA conducted vehicle tests in which engineers bombarded cars with electromagnetic radiation to see whether such radiation could cause malfunctions. In addition, NASA software experts in California, who were given unrestricted access to Toyota software code, searched for programming flaws that could lead to unintended acceleration. And at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, NASA hardware and systems engineers tested mechanical components of Toyotas to identify conditions that could unexpectedly open the throttle.

Separately, an independent panel of scientific experts at the National Academy of Sciences is conducting a broader review of unintended acceleration and car electronics, this one across the automotive industry. It is scheduled for completion later this year, and could lead to new federal safety standards for the electronics used to control cars.

The final report being released at 2 p.m. Tuesday at a press conference in Washington is unlikely to have a dramatic finding, the Los Angeles Times reported. If the engineers had found a defect, the paper said, "the government probably would have asked Toyota to issue a public notice and recall."

"If they had found something already, we would have heard about it," said Jim Mucciola, an automotive electronics consultant in Detroit and a member of an electronics compatibility committee on the Society of Automotive Engineers. "So far, it has been very quiet."

Earlier Tuesday, Toyota reported a 39 percent slide in quarterly profit but raised its full-year forecasts for car sales thanks to a booming market in Asia and other emerging world economies.


Graphic: Exploring Toyota acceleration problems

Photos: 2010 Toyota recalls

From the archives: Toyota stops production, sales of 8 models for gas pedal problem

By Peter Whoriskey  | February 8, 2011; 8:44 AM ET
Categories:  Auto industry, Corporations  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Economic agenda: Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011
Next: Economic agenda: Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011


I love my new FORD ... buy American!

Posted by: pejochum | February 8, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

In the absence of very specific answers to specific problem cases, it will be very difficult to evaluate the quality of this report. Even in the case of a top tier software development organization, the reality is that most software engineers don't do very well at finding problems in the code that they are particularly familiar with. Even the best performers struggle with finding obscure problems in software that they have worked on for years. There is not much chance of finding problems by sorting through large numbers of cases. It is necessary to start with a specific case that is documented in enough detail to find a solution to the problem and not have any doubt about the result.

Posted by: dnjake | February 8, 2011 11:03 AM | Report abuse

My 2009 Tundra (built in San Antonio, TX) has been a remarkably reliable vehicle.

Posted by: OttoDog | February 8, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

My 2009 Tundra (built in San Antonio, TX) has been a remarkably reliable vehicle.

Posted by: OttoDog | February 8, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

More Japan bashing from Ray LaHood. He became very insular growing up in Peoria, Illinois.

Posted by: Bob_Dobbs | February 8, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Glad I bought a Honda.

Posted by: MRGB | February 8, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Auto tech here. Work on all makes and models. Toyota & Honda are the best cars out there. How come I keep seeing Toyota in the paper. Could it be Chev. & Ford behind it? How about the ball joints that are always bad in the 2008-10 mustangs . We replace them at 15K and up. There should be an investigation on these I think. And they should all be recalled. If your ball joint falls out while driving guess what. CRASH! All makes and models of automobiles have problems that need to be fixed. I just find it funny that the number one sold car in America is being harassed about problems with there car when Chev & Ford have just as many problems. Take a look at all the campaigns and technical bulletins on each and you will see.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 8, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

" systems engineers tested the cars' mechanical components to identify conditions that could unexpectedly open the throttle" ? And I ask why, right ? For what does any of that have to do with skyrocketing bursts of accelleration, to speeds which reportedly have propelled some vehicles sometimes through concrete walls or off of parking garages roof tops! So to me, I'd istead look to the internal flow dyanmics that's required to produce excessive and unexpected amounts of horsepower, regardless of the position of the throttle - like the kind that results from some kind of un-natural buildup of combustable pressure in a chamber that's somehow created and maintained over time. I mean, it's NASA right ?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 8, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

No mention that the vast majority of the drivers involved in fatal "sudden acceleration" cases are over the age of sixty, or that a spike of incidents occurs after one gets in the news.

I expect we'll see another rash of them if this becomes a big story on tonight's TV newscasts.

Posted by: Jeff08 | February 8, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

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