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In the most sweeping indictment we've seen so far in the recent Toyota recall issues plaguing the Japanese automaker, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood this morning called for current owners of recalled Toyota vehicles to park their vehicles. Later in the day, however, LaHood recanted, saying that while the problem was serious, owners should take their cars to the dealership to have them fixed.

His original comments set off a firestorm of commentary and set Toyota's shares in a downward spiral.

"My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it, take it to a Toyota dealer because they believe they have a fix for it," LaHood said before a House appropriations committee in Washington, D.C. today.

After those comments, the DoT clarified LaHood's remarks.

"The DOT is advising owners of recalled vehicles to contact their local dealerships to arrange for fixes as soon as possible," Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said.

The comments came on the heels of a panel that the U.S. House organized to stem concerns that Toyota wasn't acting fast enough in its messaging to consumers following the recent recall problems. LaHood earlier told reporters that he would personally call Toyota CEO Akio Toyota in Japan to discuss the issues.

While LaHood's comments do not include the Toyota Prius, the popular hybrid model was called into question this morning over concerns that its braking system could have problems if the car runs over a pothole or large bump in the road. Toyota said this morning that it had received 100 complaints worldwide and will look into the matter.

Toyota and Pontiac Models Affected by Recall / Suspension:

Note that the Pontiac Vibe is included as it shares its platform and parts with the Toyota Matrix. No Lexus Division or Scion vehicles are affected by these actions. Also not affected are Toyota Prius, Tacoma, Sienna, Venza, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including all Camry hybrids, which will remain for sale. Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander vehicles with Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) that begin with "J" are not affected by the accelerator pedal recall.

At the heart of LaHood's concerns -- and that of many owners -- seems to be the fact that Toyota knew about problems with unintended acceleration well before the recalls took place. The company said the first technical bulletin they received about the problems came through in October of 2009. In November the company issued a recall for floor mats in Lexus products, but followed up on January 21 with a recall of Toyota products for a different -- but similar -- problem: the gas pedal could stick after wear. Five days passed before the company stopped selling the recalled products, setting off a national debate about whether or not Toyota was clear and direct with its messaging to consumers -- and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA confirmed to the Detroit News today that they are considering imposing civil penalties on Toyota for its conduct in the recent recall issues. Toyota could face fines of over $16 million per recall; any dealer who knowingly sold a defective vehicle would also face a fine of $6,000 per vehicle. No official fines have been handed out.

AOL Autos has published a series of guidelines for owners who experience problems with their Toyotas. In a recent article, our own Gary Hoffman recommended that should owners decide to continue driving their vehicles, they should at the very least practice two-foot braking in case they should ever have to use that emergency procedure in a real-world situation.

Consider these tips if you're going to continue driving your Toyota before it's fixed:

  • Do a trial run and practice putting both feet on the brakes and stopping the car from a speed of 25 mph. If there's a member of your family driving your Toyota, make sure they have practice doing the same.
  • Know your environment. If your Toyota is driven in harsh conditions (very cold, very hot, or very sandy or dusty areas), it will likely wear sooner than a vehicle in a more temperate climate. This could, in some cases, bring about problems with the sticky accelerator sooner than others.
  • Be aware of your car's overall health. Does your vehicle get a lot of wear and tear during the year? Do you drive more than 15,000 miles per year? Constant use of a vehicle, especially without proper maintenance, can mean it is even "older" than its mileage.

Read More:

- Toyota Says It's Looking Into Prius Brake Problems
- Exclusive Video: Up Close With Toyota's Recalled Accelerator Pedal
- Toyota's Woes: The Bloom Is Off The Rose


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