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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Toyota, U.S. inspectors examine wrecked N.Y. Prius

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Representatives of Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examine a crashed Toyota Prius, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, in Harrison, N.Y. Toyota recalled more than 8 million cars because their gas pedals could become stuck or be snagged by floor mats. In addition, the government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems. Representatives of Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examine a crashed Toyota Prius, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, in Harrison, N.Y. Toyota recalled more than 8 million cars because their gas pedals could become stuck or be snagged by floor mats. In addition, the government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems.
STEPHEN CHERNIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

HARRISON, N.Y. — Investigators from Toyota and the U.S. government inspected a crashed 2005 Prius in a suburb of New York City on Wednesday to see if its event data recorder or wreckage could point to problems with the brakes or accelerator.

A housekeeper who was driving the car told police that it sped up on its own as she eased forward down her employer's driveway on March 9 and hit a wall across the street. She was not hurt and authorities have said there is no sign of driver error.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million cars since the fall because their gas pedals could become stuck or be held down by floor mats. The Prius hasn't been recalled for sticky accelerators. However, the wrecked Prius had been repaired for the floor mat problem.

The government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems. Toyota is checking into those complaints as well.

On Wednesday, six Toyota inspectors, two from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and other experts huddled around laptop computers and examined the gray Prius under a tent outside the Harrison police headquarters. The car's front end was smashed in, its hood bent upward; it had a broken bumper and headlight, a flat tire and heavy scratches around its Toyota logo.

Toyota technicians stretched a yellow metallic tape measure between points on the car's damaged front and the ground.

Company spokesman Wade Hoyt said examiners would photograph the wrecked Prius, then download and analyze whatever information they could get from the event data recorder, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

The investigation follows Toyota's probe into the claims of a California driver who said he was unable to stop his runaway Prius on the freeway last week until a state trooper helped him. The company held a news conference Monday and said the driver's account was substantially different from its findings. That car didn't crash.

Hoyt said Toyota will release the data on the New York accident to Harrison police, but not the media.

"There are privacy concerns and legal concerns with all this," he said.

Capt. Anthony Marraccini of the Harrison police said, "No way," when asked if he would release the findings.

NHTSA officials at the investigation site did not make themselves available to reporters.

Hoyt said in this Prius model, the event data recorder does not register data before the crash — only "things that happen as the air bags deploy."

It wasn't known if it would show any information about braking or acceleration, Hoyt said. He also said investigators should also find "trouble codes," which show any malfunctions.

He said the Prius comes with a backup safety system for the brakes. The car's engine idles if a driver hits the accelerator and brake at the same time. "If that's all working, it should be impossible, really, for the car to take off on its own."

The investigations reflect challenges faced by the company and government. Dealers and experts have had trouble recreating episodes of sudden acceleration, and Toyota says tests have failed to find other problems beyond the sticking gas pedals and floor mats.



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