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Toyota recall: Three questions left unanswered

Toyota says a brief shift in its computerized braking system caused consumer concern. But consumer complaints show a potentially deeper problem.

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Mr. Herger recently took his car to a Lexus dealership and was told his car was fine.

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"All I can do as a consumer is trust that I just took it to the dealership and they’re not hiding anything," he says. "But if we, a year from now, found out that it was a larger issue and it does include my car, that it was a typically corporate, it's-all-about-the-money thing," that will reflect very poorly on Toyota.

A review of NHTSA data shows that while few drivers couched their pre-recall complaints in terms of surging cars while going over bumpy terrain, many drivers spoke of surges at low speeds. In one case, a driver of a 2006 Toyota Corolla reported crashing the car four separate times due to it surging forward when being driven at low speeds. A 2007 Camry owner attests that as his wife was pulling into a parking space, she braked and the car surged into a parked car.

3. What did Toyota know, and when did it know it?

Toyota says it began fixing the 2010 Prius's braking system last month for cars still on the assembly line.So why not announce a fix for the cars already in consumers' garages rather than waiting until February to announce the recall under heavy pressure from US regulators?

It raises the possibility that Toyota was not telling customers all that it knew. For example: The company also altered the manufacture of its accelerator pedals for cars sold in Europe in mid-2009 after they were deemed sticky – but says it did not begin investigating problem in the US until October 2009.

Toyota says the European problems seemed to affect only right-hand drive vehicles. And, experts agree, sudden-acceleration problems can be very difficult to pin down.

But some critics see a more troubling pattern of corporate behavior.

"What we're seeing emerging here is a problem with unintended acceleration that starts to show up in the complaint rates around 2002. The company started out really by telling consumers, 'It's your fault, it doesn't happen.' They told the government that unintended acceleration can only happen when customers hit the wrong pedal," says Sean Kane, who heads Safety Research Strategies, an advocacy group in Rehoboth, Mass.

"Then we saw this move toward blaming this sticky pedal, but ... that recall has no bearing on the unintended acceleration incidents that we're seeing at all. I think it's a distraction to what's really happening," Kane says. "They've been willing to blame their consumers for the problem when it appears that there's a multitude of root causes."

Toyota has offered explanations for its three-part recall but has yet to address several pressing issues. How do you think Toyota has handled the recall? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter.

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