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Toyota will pay NHTSA fine, adds to recalls

Mon, 19 Apr 2010

Toyota has stayed at the top of the news in the last few days. The Japanese automaker agreed to pay the record $16.4 million fine the U.S. Transportation Department levied against it, even as it scrambled to fix the Lexus GX 460 that Consumer Reports said was unsafe to drive. Toyota also just announced it will recall 870,000 Sienna minivans.

The $16.4 million fine came when the Transportation Department determined the automaker had failed to alert the government about circumstances in which gas pedals might stick. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said that Toyota “put consumers at risk” when it “failed to report known safety problems.”

Manufacturers have five days to report safety defects. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Toyota had waited at least four months before notifying authorities about the defects.

LaHood said he is pleased the company has accepted responsibility--it could have contested the fine--and will continue to look into whether Toyota has met its disclosure obligations.

Toyota has 30 days to pay the $16.4 million.

As for the Lexus GX 460, Toyota is reacting quickly to CR’s allegations that the big ute could be a rollover risk because of lift-throttle oversteer. The company’s engineers in Japan are trying to understand the cause and come up with a fix. Meanwhile, Toyota has stopped selling the GX and is offering free loaners to affected customers. Lexus has sold about 5,400 GXs so far this year, and dealers say that most responses have been calm, with GX 460 owners saying they’re confident that Lexus will fix the problem.

And finally, Toyota said it would recall 870,000 Sienna minivans (1998 to present) because the spare-tire cable could rust out and drop the tire onto the road.

The recall covers 600,000 two-wheel-drive Sienna minivans from the 1998 to 2010 model years in the United States and 270,000 in Canada.

That recall pushes Toyota to 9.3 million vehicles recalled since late last year. Most, of course, address the highly publicized risk of unintended acceleration because of faulty gas pedals and/or floor mats that could interfere with pedals. The Prius and other hybrids have also been recalled for brake problems.

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