NHTSA Prompts Toyota Power Window Switch Recall for Fires


Don’t lubricate balky or sticking power window switches – fires can result, and not just in Toyota models.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. will recall 2.5 million vehicles – 7.5 million units worldwide – because a defective power window switch can cause fires. The latest Toyota safety problem was discovered by NHTSA earlier this year when it opened an investigation about an unusual number of consumer complaints – 32 – alleging a burning electric window switch on the driver’s side door. Toyota and NHTSA have been aware of the problem for years.

Toyota, after searching its records at NHTSA’s request, said it had 151 complaints of fires going back to 2008, about the time Toyota and NHTSA were embroiled in a controversy over the cover-up of Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems. After embarrassing Congressional hearings, where both NHTSA and Toyota were severely criticized for their actions, the largest fines in NHTSA’s history were imposed because of Toyota’s unwillingness to recall a known safety defect within five days of its discovery. NHTSA had been informed by Toyota in 2009 of recalls of the switch in China and Japan for the same problem.

NHTSA has now granted Toyota exemption from the Freedom of Information Act so it will not publicly reveal the actions, tests, evaluations and investigations by Toyota and its supplier about the fire problem. This seems incredible, given the history of coverups between the two entities.

This new sweeping safety recall, as in Toyota’s troubled past, required the parent Japanese company approval, part of the problem according to critics of the Japanese whose culture is suspicious to hostile toward outsiders. Many of Toyota’s most popular vehicles are suspect, including the Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Yaris, Highlander and Matrix. Pontiac Vibe models are also being recalled for the same fire problem caused by a switch made by Nagoya-based Japanese supplier Tokai Rica and its American subsidiary Tram in Michigan, which serves Japanese transplants.

Toyota said the driver’s side power-window switch might experience a “notchy” feel during operation. If commercially available lubricants are applied to the switch in an attempt to address the balky feel, melting of the switch assembly or smoke could occur and lead to a fire.

Owners of vehicles covered by this fire recall will receive a notification letter starting in late October 2012. The repair will take approximately one hour, depending on the dealer’s work schedule. “We are not aware of any vehicle crashes for this condition,” Toyota claimed.


About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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