A lawsuit brought in California against Toyota led to the disclosure of allegedly damning documents that could cost Toyota another huge fine if the documents contain what the lawyers say. Unless lawyers (or the media) were asleep at the wheel. According to USA Today, these documents “point to possible delays involving an earlier safety issue, one that could result in loss of steering control.” USA Today says records that are part of the lawsuit show that Toyota was dealing with cracking and breaking steering relay rods in the U.S. for at least 11 years before it recalled 330,000 pickups and SUVs in Japan to replace the rods — and 12 years before its 2005 recall of nearly a million similar trucks in the U.S.
Sounds kind of familiar. I’m not suffering from Alzheimer yet, so let’s go on a fact-finding mission to the TTAC archives …
In April, Toyota was slapped with a $16.4m fine for delaying a recall due to defective accelerator pedals. Toyota paid without an admission of wrongdoing. Then, the DOT said there could be a second fine, based on the theory that there were two separate defects in the pedals. In May, while Ray LaHood visited the Toyota headquarters, the DOT said that they are looking into a third fine, this time for the Hilux Surf that was recalled in Japan in 2004, but was recalled only a year later in the U.S. This was about steering rods that were subject to fatigue, cracks and breaks.
That sounds very much like what the lawyers unearthed in California.
Says USA Today today: “Now NHTSA — which accepted Toyota’s assertion after the 2004 steering rod recall in Japan that U.S. action was not needed — has opened a probe demanding that Toyota explain why it waited nearly a year to recall the compact pickups, 4Runner SUVs and T-100 pickups in the U.S. to fix the rods.”
As a matter of fact, the NHTSA had opened the probe months ago, but nobody is checking anymore. The press is just blindly writing what lawyers feed them. There is no mention of a fresh probe into Toyota on the NHTSA website. The NHTSA usually is not shy about these matters.
On May 10, 2010, NHTSA announced: “NHTSA Opens Investigation into Timeliness of 2005 Toyota Steering Relay Rod Recall.” Ever since: Nothing. Cognoscenti will remember that the Hilux is sold as the 4Runner stateside. Lawyers may not know that.
Nobody in the press thought it worthy of digging into this matter. Instead, everybody printed reams of warmed-over stories that sound like they were written by a lawyer.
In the computer age, it took us 10 minutes to find out that they were fed news that was more than a month old. They swallowed it. Can you get food poisoning from news that exceeded its shelf life? Lawyers should look into this.