• Feb 23, 2010
Toyota Corolla is one auto being investigated by NHTSA over steering complaints

Through much of the recent deluge of recall announcements and ensuing media coverage, there have been large groups on either side of the issue, quick to criticize or to defend the automakers and the governing bodies involved in the investigations. While many media outlets have merely reported the news, others have weighed in to give their opinion on what's going on. The latest to take a side on the issue is Edmunds.com. The well-known consumer information site issued a press release calling out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), questioning what they see as Inconsistencies in the NHTSA's handling of Chevrolet Cobalt and Toyota Corolla steering complaints.

After reviewing the cases of these two cars and other complaints dating all the way back to 1990, Edmunds found "no clear pattern in terms of the number of consumer complaints that trigger an agency investigation." Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs found that "as few as five complaints have triggered an investigation [while] other investigations haven't started until 1,500 complaints had accumulated."

In the case of the Chevy Cobalt there were 1,157 complaints about steering issues before the recall investigation was started, while the Toyota Corolla had registered just 84 complaints before that investigation was announced. Even more telling was the fact that NHTSA took an average of 262 days to conclude an investigation before launching a recall, but the range was curiously wide – from just 10 days to a full six years, according to the Edmunds.com report.

"Whether NHTSA's process works properly and quickly enough and whether it is transparent enough is highly questionable. Ultimately, this week's Congressional hearings may well reveal as many defects in NHTSA procedures as defects in Toyota vehicles," said Krebs. The hearings will likely be a chance to play to the cameras for everyone involved, but hopefully some real change can come out of it if the system is indeed shown to be flawed. The full statement from Edmunds.com is after the jump.



[Source: Edmunds, Inc.]
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Edmunds.com Questions NHTSA Inconsistencies, Compares Chevy Cobalt and Toyota Corolla Steering Complaints

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - February 22, 2010 - Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive consumer information, has obtained and reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaint and defect investigation database and determined that there are seemingly unexplainable inconsistencies in the vehicle recall process.

"Edmunds.com's analysis of NHTSA data shows no clear pattern in terms of the number of consumer complaints that trigger an agency investigation. As few as five complaints have triggered an investigation; other investigations haven't started until 1,500 complaints had accumulated," noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Michelle Krebs in her report NHTSA on the Hot Seat: What is Standard Operating Procedure? on AutoObserver.com.

The report points out that between 2005 and 2010, steering problems on Chevrolet Cobalt were the subject of 1,157 complaints while Toyota Corolla steering problems were the subject of 84 complaints. According to Edmunds.com's reading of the steering complaints on both vehicles, the complaints about the Cobalt's steering are far more serious and more dangerous than are the complaints about the Corolla's steering. NHTSA recently opened official investigations of both vehicles.

Edmunds.com's analysis of NHTSA defects investigation data - from 1990 to the present - shows that once an investigation is launched, it takes an average of 262 days to conclude and result in a recall. However, the range has varied from an investigation that lasted a mere 10 days to another that languished for six years.

"Many of the complaints are actively discussed on Edmunds' CarSpace.com, the auto industry's most established online community, so neither the automaker nor NHTSA can claim ignorance of the issues that potentially make our roads less safe," commented Sylvia Marino, Executive Director of Community for Edmunds.com.

"Whether NHTSA's process works properly and quickly enough and whether it is transparent enough is highly questionable. Ultimately, this week's Congressional hearings may well reveal as many defects in NHTSA procedures as defects in Toyota vehicles," stated Krebs.

About Edmunds.com, Inc. (http://www.edmunds.com/help/about/index.html)
Edmunds.com Inc. publishes four Web sites that empower, engage and educate automotive consumers, enthusiasts and insiders. Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for automotive consumer information, launched in 1995 as the first automotive information Web site. InsideLine.com is the most-read automotive enthusiast Web site. CarSpace is an automotive social networking Web site. AutoObserver.com provides insightful automotive industry commentary and analysis. Edmunds.com Inc. is headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and maintains a satellite office in suburban Detroit. Follow Edmunds.com on Twitter @edmunds and fan Edmunds.com on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/edmunds.


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  • 44 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think part of the issue is that the manufacturers are negotiating with the NHTSA on recalls. These are backroom deals that consumers never hear about (until now anyway.)
      • 4 Years Ago
      well said
      • 4 Years Ago
      Not surprised about the Colbalt. I rented one and it felt cheap.

      Colbalt = can't afford a Civic
      • 4 Years Ago
      ever notice NHTSA has an N in the first place? DUH.
        • 4 Years Ago
        What?
        • 4 Years Ago
        I guess GM never hired an NTHSA investigator while Toyota did...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ahh, got ya! I didn't get the comment. I only scanned the post originally! My bad...
        • 4 Years Ago
        N for national, dude. it answers to the priority of the united states. how else do you bootstrap the US auto ind?
      • 4 Years Ago
      It is refreshing to see some good ol'fashioned legwork being done to investigate the issues instead of finger pointing from behind a wall. Toyota has taken a lot of flak over this issue, and potentially some of it rightfully so, but there are deeper issues at work that should be considered. Before claiming to have it 'all figured out' the NHTSA should tread lightly on making weighty, media-frenzy accusations.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Good to see some rational thinking vs the crazy behavior.

        The truth is that these problems are VERY isolated. That is why Toyota has been so 'slow' to respond is that these problems are rare and hard to duplicate. I'm not saying that there are legitimate problems--there are. But this is not widespread.

        Even a 99.999% quality (which is basically world-class) means that 10 out of every 1,000,000 vehicles would have a problem. Considering the complexity of today's vehicles, the influx of electronic throttles (a relatively new technology) and normal quality standards for a machine that travels 12,000+ miles of American road a year in hot and cold, dry and rainy weather . . . what is an acceptable failure rate? Plus factor in human error (remember that most of Audi's problems were due to the accelerator pedal and brake being much closer together that American cars) these problems are bound to happen.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The point I'm making is you can throw all the 9s you want on there. If it's a safety issue and other manufacturers can do better, then you should attempt to catch up to their levels. Failure to do so is at your own peril of being vilified and such as they are and loss of sales (such as it appears is happening).
        • 4 Years Ago
        @why not the LS2LS7?

        Big Difference between 99.9% and 99.999% or even what they call six sigma.

        - 99.9% would be 1000 problems per million
        - 99.999% would be 10 problems per million

        The point I was trying to make is that this is a complex issue. I know it is fun to jump on Toyota because of their past success and current arrogance. I would be very surprised if Toyota is maliciously is at fault, no more so than GM or Ford or anyone else.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Hackman: I'd like to know that as well, but the NHTSA isn't investigating and the media isn't covering it. Funny that.
        • 4 Years Ago
        There was no legwork, they just did a googlefight.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Edmunds is doing a lot of investigative journalism.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Really,

      Replace those numbers with body count and see if your sarcasm holds up.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The Cobalt complains are loss of steering boost. Much like the loss of braking boost in the Prius. How come Edmunds isn't raking NHTSA over the coals for not mandating a recall for the braking issue in the Prius (the recall was voluntary)?
        • 4 Years Ago
        The Cobalt complaints were much more dangerous and serious.

        http://www.edmunds.com/help/about/press/161686/article.html
      • 4 Years Ago
      Great - now NHTSA and Toy have a common interest in seeing this thing blow over. Oh well, I guess it will balance the conflict with those people crying about this being a Gubmint Motors witch-hunt.
      • 4 Years Ago
      also NHTSA has nearly 300 complaints on 2009-2010 Corollas regarding steering. i didn't search every one for the same problem, but that's a LOT of complaints.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Well that is not fair on Edmonds to say as they are not looking before say 6 months ago; or ever further back then that.

      Look at it this way:

      If a person is caught steeling money from the company til .. guess what .. they are not treated equally anymore. They are watched more, regulated more, and any error they make is brought out and looked at in way more detail.

      No different then when your taxes catch the attention of an auditor.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Red flag level of Toyota econobox = 80 complaints.
      Red flag level of Chevy econobox = 1500 complaints.

      Somehow, this doesn't shock me.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Expecting complete consistency is really asking too much. You're talking about a large organization and it is composed of individuals. One guy gets assigned one investigation, another gets another. Maybe the first works 12 hour days and the 2nd guy takes a month long vacation in Europe. Each individual should strive to do the best job possible, but they're not all going to be the same.

      As to the steering, the situations aren't exactly the same. One (the Cobalt) is a momentary loss of steering boost. The car still goes the way you want, just needs a lot more force to do it. The other (Corolla) is reported as it responding to false inputs, i.e. it could turn a direction you didn't even steer. So it isn't a slam dunk here, both would have to be investigated to find out what is up before acting.

      But my biggest question is, where did Edmunds get info that there is a recall on the Cobalt steering? From my searching (google+recalls.gov) there is no recall on the Cobalt or the Toyota. So how can you compare the length of the process leading to recalls on two vehicles in which neither has lead to a recall yet?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jeez, you're arguing with a wall here
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't think anyone is expecting complete consistency. SOME consistency would be nice. There should be guidelines to dictate what should cause a recall so there's no inconsistencies like this.

        Also, don't read Autoblog. Read the actual Edmunds article. It addresses all your concerns: "According to Edmunds.com's reading of the steering complaints on both vehicles, the complaints about the Cobalt's steering are far more serious and more dangerous than are the complaints about the Corolla's steering. NHTSA recently opened official investigations of both vehicles."

        They were referring to the amount of complaints required for the NHTSA to open an investigation.

        The Cobalt complaints were much more dangerous and serious.

        http://www.edmunds.com/help/about/press/161686/article.html
        • 4 Years Ago
        jeez:
        You don't see automakers with 84 complaints getting investigated?

        Perhaps you could give an example. Where is the data behind this?

        You say the fact is the Toyota issue is more minor? The fact is you don't have the facts. You have to do an investigation to get the facts. Did you do one?

        The reports on the Toyota vehicle are response to non-existent inputs. This is a serious issue. Now, you might say that it isn't really doing that, it just feels that way due to intermittent loss of boost, which is the same issue as on the Cobalt. Hey, I tend to agree. But you know how you find out which it is? You do an investigation.

        This is all just a statistical anomaly. Since old issues are being investigated due to increased attention, older issues look like they were treated differently than newer issues if you just go by the time that passed between when they were reported and when the heat came on. And you can make it look any way you want simply by picking an old issue from one make and a newer one from another. Edmunds has done this. You have done this.

        I'll respond to your other issue here:
        http://autos.aol.com/article/toyota-corolla-power-steering-investigation

        '"[I] notice the steeering wheel sometimes pulses only when my cell phone is...docked to the right of the steering wheel," wrote one Corolla driver in an official complaint on June 26, 2009. "It's strange I can sometimes tell if my Blackberry is going to ring or get an email. The steering wheel seems to shake or try to steer on its own. This is similar to my other 2009 Toyota Corolla that I resold to the dealer. I wonder if more shielding is needed to reduce any interference."'
        The article also talks about "unintended veering". This (if true) can be considered a potentially dangerous issue than simple intermittent boost. So that's why you investigate, to find out which it really is.

        To be honest, seeing you misrepresent Toyota issues just to bolster your points gets really boring.
        • 4 Years Ago
        if you haven't already...try this site, it requires some patience, following the correct links and entering specific auto models. i didn't do a very heavy or thorough search on Corollas but I only found 3 recalls on a 2006 dealing with exterior and headlight information. depending on the model year there could be others.

        http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jeez:
        I am aware of the two issues. I have said as much.

        If that's your reading of the Edmunds article, then the issue is even more minor than I made it out to be. You want to know why there's a investigation right now on the Corolla? Because investigations are hot. They're all over the news. And that goes for lots of makes.

        The bar has been moved. Because of the news stories, the bar is a lot lower now. But this doesn't mean anything about Toyota or NHTSA's treatment of Toyota. If the Toyota issue had been around 5 years and a GM one had been around for one, I bet you'd still see both go into investigation phase right now.

        Here's the thing. NHTSA is coming under fire right now, so they are stepping up their level of investigations. The press is accusing NHTSA from going easy on Toyota due to a revolving door, so Toyota is getting it hard. It's just how things work.

        Say you have a luge track open for 2 years and get some grumblings about it, ho hum, big deal. Now what if a guy dies on camera and the press runs the story all day for 36 hours? All of a sudden you declare the track was safe all along, yet still modify it. You also move the start point down to slow the speeds even though the peak speeds (where the accident occurred) are still 90 miles an hour!

        I'm way overworking this. The key is NHTSA is under fire and they want to be seen as doing something proactive. So they are crawling up the bunghole of all the manufacturers, especially the one who just crowed about saving money by delaying NHTSA safety regulations. That's all it is. When the boss is looking, make sure you look like you are working hard, and if the whole world is looking, doubly so.

        And going back and picking an incident that has percolated for years and saying that means there's unfair treatment just doesn't prove anything. What if I found a GM incident that went back 9 years and a Toyota one only a year? I bet I could do it, given the number of cases being opened right now. Would that mean NHTSA is suddenly biased?

        Did you see Edmunds putting out this press release a year ago? No? Why are they suddenly paying attention to the issue? Because of the press attention. They're doing the same thing as NHTSA, we all do.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "You don't see automakers with 84 complaints getting investigated?

        Perhaps you could give an example. Where is the data behind this?"

        Sure. For one thing, Edmunds other analysis also posted on AB showed that they had a much higher complaint rate for the past decade. If your logic was correct, the domestics would all still be showing up with tons of new investigations now because all those complaints that were previously not investigated would be now. The fact is- they aren't. Even if all automakers were suddenly under equal scope, according to your baseless logic, you would still be wrong.

        Want a specific example? Sure, in model year 2008 ALONE, CR reported that Ford barely had less unintended acceleration reports (36) than Toyota (52), yet only Toyota got hit with a witch-hunt. They both had disproportionately more complaints than any other automaker, and only 1 was investigated. Not suspicious? How naive can you be? I thought all incidents would be investigated thoroughly now that the NHTSA is under the scope of the media? I guess not!

        "You say the fact is the Toyota issue is more minor? The fact is you don't have the facts. You have to do an investigation to get the facts. Did you do one? The reports on the Toyota vehicle are response to non-existent inputs. This is a serious issue. Now, you might say that it isn't really doing that, it just feels that way due to intermittent loss of boost, which is the same issue as on the Cobalt. Hey, I tend to agree. But you know how you find out which it is? You do an investigation."

        Did you? I showed you that Edmunds looked at the complaints and deemed them to be less serious. Another news organization reported the same, and said that most involved people complaining about their cars drifting and not going in a straight line at high speeds- something we've all experienced before. Of all the Corolla complaints, only 2 reported injuries, and their complaints were completely unlike all the others. Looking through the Cobalt complaints, there were dozens of injuries and even 1 death. That in my books, makes them more serious. I don't care how bad you try to make the Corolla complaints sound, but the fact is that they haven't anywhere near as many people.

        '"The article also talks about "unintended veering". This (if true) can be considered a potentially dangerous issue than simple intermittent boost. So that's why you investigate, to find out which it really is."

        Wow, one complaint trying to link it to his phone? That's amazing. Veering? Now that sounds scary. Oh wait. I just went through dozens of those Corolla complaints, and they all talk about randomly, slowly drifting to either side once they go at highway speeds. You'd also think they would all notice that their cell phone starts ringing right before they start drifting. Oh wait, they didn't. Compare this to the Cobalt complaints, which are often longer, more detailed, and more frantic. Maybe you should actually do your own investigating like you told me to instead of reading some sensationalizing AOL article.

        "To be honest, seeing you misrepresent Toyota issues just to bolster your points gets really boring."

        Funny, I was thinking the same about you.
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