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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Failure of Totota fixes scrutinized


WASHINGTON - Some Toyota owners say they're still having trouble with unintended acceleration after their recalled cars were repaired, and the U.S. Transportation Department said yesterday it is looking into their complaints.

The complaints raise questions about whether Toyota's remedy will solve the problem. David Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a statement that the agency is reaching out to consumers about the complaints "to get to the bottom of the problem and to make sure Toyota is doing everything possible to make its vehicles safe."

"If Toyota owners are still experiencing sudden acceleration incidents after taking their cars to the dealership, we want to know about it," Mr. Strickland said.

The government has received a limited number of acceleration reports from the Toyota owners whose floor mats or gas pedals have been fixed. Toyota and the government are probing potential electrical problems as part of the Japanese automaker's recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide.

NHTSA has linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by Toyota's acceleration problems. The firm has blamed mechanical causes or drivers pressing the wrong pedal and repaired about 1 million vehicles, but has said it is looking into electronics.

Toyota did not immediately comment on the new complaints.

Stewart Stogel, 49, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., said his 2009 Camry accelerated to about 15 mph on a street near his home on Saturday, five days after a dealership trimmed the gas pedal and installed brake override software as part of the floor-mat recall. The car didn't stop for several seconds even though he pressed on the brakes. Mr. Stogel said he barely avoided going down an embankment and hitting a wall.

"At first, the brakes didn't engage at all," Mr. Stogel said. "Just as I approached Terrace Avenue, the wheels were able to get some traction, and all of the sudden the engine did disengage."

He said the car had accelerated two other occasions, and both times he took it to dealerships to be checked. In one case, he said, a Toyota corporate technician checked the auto and could find nothing wrong, he said.

Carolyn Kimbrell, 59, of Whitesville, Ky., said her 2006 Toyota Avalon accelerated last weekend as she pulled up to her mailbox near her home - about a week after the car had been fixed. She had just returned from the mall with her 9-year-old granddaughter.

Ms. Kimbrell's car dealer on Feb. 20 inserted a small piece of metal into the gas pedal mechanism to eliminate friction that was causing the pedal problems. The dealer is scheduled to provide a separate fix to prevent the accelerator pedal from becoming trapped in the floor mat. But now she said she wonders if the fix will solve the problem.

"It just scares you," she said. "If I had been trying to stop at a busy intersection, that would have been bad."

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