Sequoia SUV Joins Toyota's Ever-Growing Safety Recall List

Toyota Sequoia Safety Recall
Toyota Sequoia Safety Recall

Toyota Motor (TM) has issued yet another in its seemingly endless string of safety recalls. The world's largest automaker said Wednesday it was recalling some 50,000 2003 Sequoia sports-utility vehicles due to issues with sudden, unexpected braking or slowing caused by a software problem in vehicles' electronic stability control systems.

The recall comes 16 months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into the Sequoia after receiving 50 complaints from drivers who experienced "inappropriate activation of the electronic stability control or the traction control system." The agency said the number of complaints has since risen to 64, while the automaker has received at least 96 reports about the issue, The Detroit News reported.

"During the activation of either system, the driver loses throttle control and one or more brakes may apply, causing the vehicle to slow suddenly," the NHTSA said in a filing. "During these activation events, the brake lights are not illuminated to signal to following traffic that the vehicle is slowing."

In a written statement, Toyota said there have been no injuries or accidents reported as a result of the problem. However, the NHTSA said some complaints it received included allegations of Sequoias being hit or nearly hit by vehicles following behind them when the unexpected slowing occurred.

Vehicles affected by the recall will receive a software upgrade to remedy the issue, Toyota said, noting that the glitch affects only early 2003 model year Sequoias. In vehicles without the upgrade, the stability control system could in certain situations activate at low speeds -- about 9 miles an hour -- for a few seconds after accelerating from a stop. As a result, the vehicle may not accelerate as quickly as the driver would expect, Toyota said.

Unrelated to Unintended Acceleration Problems

The recall isn't the first effort Toyota has made to fix the issue. The problem was originally identified by the automaker in fall 2003, and Toyota published a technical service bulletin to advise dealers' service departments. Since then, Toyota has responded to owners' concerns on a case-by-case basis, replacing the skid control units in affected Sequoias. Of the approximately 50,000 vehicles included in the recall, about half have already been serviced under warranty, Toyota said.

Owners of vehicles affected by the recall will begin receiving letters in late May requesting them to bring the SUVs in for service, Toyota said. Any customer who paid to have a Sequoia's skid control unit replaced prior to receiving the recall letter should mail a copy of their repair receipt to Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. for reimbursement, Toyota said.

The Sequoia recall is at least the sixth separate recall Toyota has issued since late January. The most recent prior to this was issued last week and involved about 9,400 Lexus GX 460 luxury SUVs which are being brought in for upgrades to their electronic stability control software. Road tests by Consumer Reports magazine showed the GX 460 was susceptible to rolling over under certain driving situations. Shortly after the nonprofit publication published its findings on April 13, Toyota undertook its own tests and confirmed the existence of the problem.

The stability control problems are unrelated to issues of unintended acceleration that have led to recalls of several other Toyota models. The company recalled more than 8 million vehicles to repair "sticky" gas pedals or to fix accelerators that may get hung up on rubber floor mats. There have also been smaller recalls to address braking issues in 2010 Prius hybrids and 4-cylinder Camrys.

Earlier this year, federal investigations into Toyota's safety problems led lawmakers to subpoena company officials to testify before both houses of Congress. Toyota executives will appear on Capitol Hill for additional hearings early next month.

Shares of Toyota, which are down nearly 9% this year, were down a fraction to $76.81 a share in midday trading on Wall Street.