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Toyota probe deepens amid confusion over risk

WASHINGTON (AP) - Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told
Toyota owners Wednesday they should stop driving their vehicles,
then quickly took back his words, adding to confusion over the
safety of millions of recalled cars. Toyota, for its part, tried to
reassure drivers that sticky gas pedals have been rare - and the
cars can be stopped in any event by firmly stepping on the brakes.

The final word from LaHood: "What I meant to say or what I
thought I said was, if you own one of these cars or if you're in
doubt, take it to the dealer and they're going to fix it."

The back-and-forth played out as word surfaced that Toyota Motor
Corp. also has been the subject of more than 100 complaints in the
U.S. and Japan about brake problems with the popular Prius
gas-electric hybrid, which is not part of the recall. The National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received about 100
complaints, two of them involving crashes that resulted in
injuries. In addition, Japan's transport ministry said it had
received 14 complaints.

Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
investigative subcommittee, said he planned to ask Toyota about the
complaints related to the Prius.

Further clouding the picture for consumers: the notion that
problems could extend beyond Toyota vehicles. Federal officials
have widened their investigation of malfunctioning gas pedals to
see if the same problem exists in cars made by other auto
companies.

The traffic safety agency said it had sent a letter to CTS, the
Indiana company that made the pedals for Toyota, to find out more
about the pedals it has manufactured for other auto companies,
including Honda, Nissan and a small number of Fords in China. CTS
has been adamant that the issues are limited to Toyota alone.

The Toyota recall in the U.S. covers 2.3 million vehicles and
involves 2009-10 RAV4 crossovers, 2009-10 Corollas, 2009-10 Matrix
hatchbacks, 2005-10 Avalons, 2007-10 Camrys, 2010 Highlander
crossovers, 2007-10 Tundra pickups and 2008-10 Sequoia SUVs. The
recalls also extend to Europe and China, covering nearly 4.5
million vehicles overall.

Toyota said the sticking gas pedal situation is unusual and
"generally does not occur suddenly. In the rare instances where it
does occur, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady
application of the brakes."

LaHood said the government is considering civil penalties
against the carmaker but that it appeared "Toyota is making an
all-out effort to do all that they can to fix these cars."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said plenty of questions remain.

"Obviously, there are concerns regarding the consistency of
information that is entering the public domain," he said.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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