As early as 2002, Toyota warned its dealers through a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) that certain models of its cars could experience engine surging and that an electronic recalibration was necessary to fix the problem. The document appears to fly in the face of recent testimony from Toyota that the company has never found a defect in its electronic throttle control system that has caused unintended acceleration.
The TSB, issued on August 30, 2002, entitled "ECM Calibration Update: 1 MZ-FE Engine Surging" stated that "Some 2002 model year Camry vehicles equipped with the 1MZ-FE engine may exhibit a surging during light throttle input at speeds between 38-42 MPH with lock-up (l/U) 'ON.' The engine control module (ECM) calibration has been revised to correct this condition."
While the report was brought to light by Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., prior to the U.S. House Energy Subcommittee on Oversight in late February and first reported on by Automotive News, the actual document had not circulated until this week. CNN began circulating the TSB on its website and through a new report which aired on the channel last night.
The document is important as it is one of few -- if any -- official documents from Toyota where the company has acknowledged a known link between engine surging and vehicle electronics, something that has become the subject of much discussion over the last few months.
In fact, company officials publicly denied that their electronic systems were at fault for recent claims of unintended acceleration.
"We have commissioned a comprehensive, independent evaluation of our electronic throttle control system by a world?class engineering and scientific consulting firm," Toyota's Yoshimi Inaba said to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on March 2, 2010. "In our own extensive testing, we have never found a defect that has caused unintended acceleration."
The link between the surging Toyotas and its electronic systems is unfounded, says Toyota. They maintain that the issues surrounding unintended acceleration are limited to issues with floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals which have a mechanical problem, not an electronic one.
Congressman Stupak, speaking before his hearings weeks back, did not believe the company's line.
"We still feel there’s an electronic problem here that’s not been addressed," Stupak said. "As someone said, there’s a gremlin in this electronic system which are making these cars accelerate unexpectedly, and unfortunately, it’s resulted in some serious accidents and deaths."
Toyota stands by its recent announcements and internal investigations.
"Toyota is confident that no defect exists in the ECU," said the company in a prepared document on its recall website.
To date, more than 6 million cars have been recalled by the company in the last few months. More information on the specific recalls, including how the fixes are being made, can be found on our complete Toyota Recall hub.
2002 Camry Was All-New
The number of complaints for Toyota owners experiencing unintended acceleration began in the early part of the decade, when Toyota moved a lot of its primary throttle components to electronic controls (as opposed to mechanical controls). The all-new-for-2002 Camry was a breakthrough model in this regard, using an accelerator pedal sensor, a throttle control motor, a throttle position sensor and the engine control module (ECM). The components were seen as an overall improvement in vehicle safety, efficiency and reliability.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation has numerous complaints from Camry owners about problems with unintended acceleration. A complaint filed on July 1, 2005 indicated a problem with unintended acceleration on a 2002 Camry model.
Toyota says that its investigations continue.
Today in Washington, a plaintiff attorney and various electronic experts will continue the case against the company with new findings that the company is "deficient" because it does not detect problems that lead to unintended acceleration.