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Federal Grand Jury Probing Toyota Steering Defects

Jul 21, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP Toyota is facing yet another investigation. This time, a federal grand jury is looking into steering-related defects in its vehicles, and possibly how it handled a 2005 recall.

According to The New York Times, Toyota announced yesterday that its US subsidiaries had received subpoenas last month demanding documents about defects in steering relay rods in the company’s cars. It was not clear what defects, models or production years were under investigation, The Times said.

As we’ve reported previously, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is already investigating the 2005 recall, which involved defective steering rods. Toyota waited 11 months to issue a US recall, after it had already done so for trucks in Japan. The recall in Japan took place in October 2004; the US recall, involving 977,839 similar vehicles, took place September 2005. In 2004, Toyota told US regulators the problems were limited to vehicles in Japan.

Under US law, carmakers have five days to report safety problems to regulators.

Although it has not yet determined the timing, the NHTSA has reports of three deaths and seven injuries linked to the faulty steering rods on 4Runner SUVs and T100 and Hi Lux compact pickups, which involve 1989 to 1998 models.

The newly-revealed grand jury investigation is just the latest headache for Toyota this year. Since last November, Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to resolve the floor-mat interference and sticking pedal problems that may lead to incidents of unintended acceleration. Some vehicles are subject to both recalls. Complaints to the NHTSA attribute 93 deaths to sudden acceleration of a Toyota vehicle.

Earlier this year, Toyota agreed to pay a record $16.375 million fine levied by the NHTSA for concealing information related to a January recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals. The company also faces more than 200 lawsuits resulting from the sticky accelerator and floor mat recalls.

According to The New York Times, Toyota had already received two other subpoenas this year, one from a grand jury in February for documents related to sudden acceleration and braking and one from the Michigan attorney general in March for information on recalls.

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