Inspector General: NHTSA Needs To Rethink Defect Investigation

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as it did embarrass Toyota’s quality control. And to help clarify what exactly the lessons of the Toyota flap were, the DOT’s Inspector General has released a report detailing its criticisms of the federal safety regulators. According to the report [ PDF], NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) has not

  • Adequately tracked or documented pre-investigation activities.
  • Established a systematic process for determining when to involve third-party or Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) assistance
  • Followed timeliness goals for completing investigations or fully implemented its redaction policy to ensure consumers’ privacy. [Ed: gee, you think?]
  • Established a complete and transparent record system with documented support for decisions that significantly affect its investigations.
  • Developed a formal training program to ensure staff has the necessary skills and expertise.

In his response, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland largely concurred with the audit’s findings, and is working with the ODI to improve investigation processes, transparency, privacy controls, staffing, training and more. In short, the government has reached the same conclusion that I reached on the day of the angst-filled Toyota testimony before congress, to wit:

Congress holds hearings like these to uncover shocking evidence and to impress its constituents with its dedication to their safety and well-being. Having been enticed into believing that sinister conspiracies exist in Toyota’s software code and the halls of the NHTSA, the House Energy Committee uncovered only one actionable solution to the ongoing scandal: [improving] NHTSA’s investigative capabilities. Put differently, after hours of posturing congress finally met the enemy and he was them.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

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  • Luke42 Luke42 on Nov 14, 2011

    I'm a Prius owner and I've also owned 2 Fords. I've personally experienced stuck gas pedals in both Fords, and I've experienced flawless performance from the Prius. Let me say that again: Ford: 2 Toyota: 0 Lower is better. No, data is not the plural of anecdote, but it does make me skeptical of the hype. Also, since I've had stuck gas pedals in 2 of the last 5 cars I've owned (or driven regularly as part of the family), I'd submit that learning how to deal with a stuck gas pedal is a skill that every driver should have. For the record, my Tempo had a binding throttle cable at somewhere around 140k miles. The stuck pedal in my Ranger was probably because it got tangled up in a floor mat. Both were manual transmission cars, so I just put in the clutch and dealt with the (rather noisy) problem while I was coasting. We've put about the same number of miles on the Prius as I have on those two Fords combined, and I'm not reluctant to shift the Prius into neutral, hit the "Park" switch, or turn the car "off" if I have to -- given my experience with the Fords, and the hype, I've done a few practice drills in the Prius and feel confident that I could deal with it competently.

    • Redav Redav on Nov 15, 2011

      I've driven a Lexus CT200h, and the gear shift controls aren't the usual PRNDL & don't make it obvious how to put it in N. I assume the Prius is the same. It's a good practice to know exactly how to execute such a maneuver if you buy a car; it's a shame that those who were in accidents were not so prepared. I've never experienced a sticky gas pedal. I honestly think they're pretty rare anymore. I also believe that the majority of UA cases were the result of the driver hitting the gas when they thought they hit the brake. I don't have proof, but it does seem the simplest & most reasonable cause.

  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Nov 14, 2011

    To properly put UA in perspective, one needs to dig deeper, and use the approach favored by engineers when creating an FMEA, namely speaking in terms of severity, where severity is not a function of occurrence, or the ability to detect the existence of the fault during the manufacturing process. By taking each occurrence for each vehicle line, or cross-vehicle common sub-/system, and multiplying it by say, 10 for deaths, 8 for injuries, 6 for vehicular or property damage, 4 for a pants-filling near-miss, 2 for a lesser incident, these issues could be put into better context, better understood and acted on with a deliberate, rather than possibly extingent, priority.

  • MaintenanceCosts You expect everything on Amazon and eBay to be fake, but it's a shame to see fake stuff on Summit Racing. Glad they pulled it.
  • SCE to AUX 08 Rabbit (college car, 128k miles): Everything is expensive and difficult to repair. Bought it several years ago as a favor to a friend leaving the country. I outsourced the clutch ($1200), but I did all other work. Ignition switch, all calipers, pads, rotors, A/C compressor, blower fan, cooling fan, plugs and coils, belts and tensioners, 3 flat tires (nails), and on and on.19 Ioniq EV (66k miles): 12V battery, wipers, 1 set of tires, cabin air filter, new pads and rotors at 15k miles since the factory ones wore funny, 1 qt of reduction gear oil. Insurance is cheap. It costs me nearly nothing to drive it.22 Santa Fe (22k miles): Nothing yet, except oil changes. I dread having to buy tires.
  • AZFelix 2015 Sonata Limited72k when purchased, 176k miles currentlyI perform all maintenance and repairs except for alignment, tire mounting, tire patching, and glass work (tint and passenger left due to rock hit). Most parts purchased through and repairs during three years of ownership:Front rotors and all brake pads upgraded shortly after purchase.Preparing for 17th oil change (full synthetic plus filter c.$50), one PCV valve.Timing & accessory belts, belt tensioner.Coolant full flush and change.Fibrous plastic material engine under tray replaced by aftermarket solid plastic piece $110.One set of tires (c.$500 +installation) plus two replacements and a number of patches due to nails, etc. Second set coming soon.Hood struts $30.Front struts, rear shocks, plus sway bar links, front ball joints, tie rod ends, right CV axle (large rock on freeway damaged it and I took the opportunity to redo the rest of items on this list).Battery c.$260.Two sets of spark plugs @ $50/set.Three sets of cabin and engine filters.Valve cover gasket (next week).Averages out to c.$1400 per year for the past three years. Minor driver seat bolster wear, front rock chips, and assorted dents & dings but otherwise looks and drives very well.
  • 3-On-The-Tree 2014 Ford F150 Ecoboost 3.5L. By 80,000mi I had to have the rear main oil seal replaced twice. Driver side turbo leaking had to have all hoses replaced. Passenger side turbo had to be completely replaced. Engine timing chain front cover leak had to be replaced. Transmission front pump leak had to be removed and replaced. Ford renewed my faith in Extended warranty’s because luckily I had one and used it to the fullest. Sold that truck on caravan and got me a 2021 Tundra Crewmax 4x4. Not a fan of turbos and I will never own a Ford again much less cars with turbos to include newer Toyotas. And I’m a Toyota guy.
  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.