Back in February, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration initiated an investigation of 749,685 2009 and 2010 model year Corolla and Matrix vehicles for a potential steering issue. And while we haven't heard much from the government agency regarding this issue, the Detroit Free Press reports that Toyota has indicated that the problem is not a safety defect and thus doesn't warrant a recall. Instead, the automaker will provide a free fix to customers who claim to have an issue.
NHTSA reportedly launched the investigation after 168 reports that Corolla and Matrix electric power steering units were prone to drifting or locking up, with the problem most notable when cruising at highway speeds. Toyota has reportedly told the Free Press that it has collected a total of 437 reports, including 11 injuries and 18 crashes. Further, the automaker has been receiving complaints about this issue since 2008. Spokesperson Brian Lyons reportedly tells the Freep that the majority of issues involve wandering from the dead-ahead steering position and that the company considers the problem a customer satisfaction issue, not a defect.
To address customer concerns, Toyota has sent a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) to its dealers advising technicians to check tire pressure and alignment. If that doesn't fix the problem, the next step is to replace the computer that governs the electric power steering with a new unit that has been re-tuned with a different steering feel.
Not classifying the Corolla/Matrix issues as a safety defect figures to save the Japanese company a lot of cash that would be tied up in a recall. Toyota will also avoid having to update regulators, who were informed of its decision to forgo recall proceedings way back in May. NHTSA hasn't publicly said anything since the Toyota proclamation and the investigation is reportedly still ongoing. With 11 injuries, 18 crashes and hundreds of reported problems, we're very interested to see if NHTSA ultimately agrees with Toyota on this one, or if the situation will eventually result in another recall and additional bad publicity for the automaker. Likewise, with General Motors having sold its own Matrix twin, the Pontiac Vibe, it presumably faces the same sort of steering issue. If so, it will be interesting to see if the Detroit automaker chooses to address the issue in the same way.