Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Toyota's Prius Problem

2010 Prius

Ever since Toyota first addressed complaints about unintended acceleration last October, there have been a steady number of complaints from Prius owners.

I've heard them from time to time and they basically amount to Prius owners saying their car suddenly sped up or the brakes didn't work properly.

But even as it recalls millions of cars and trucks, Toyota has always maintained there's no problem with the Prius.

Now Japan's Ministry of Transportation wants to make sure the gas-electric hybrid is safe. It's ordering Toyota to investigate a rash of complaints about braking problems with the Prius. Here in the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received 102 complaints. Among those now questioning their Prius is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. He says his Prius unintentionally accelerates.

So does Toyota have a Prius problem?

If it does unintentionally accelerate like millions of other Toyota's, it creates an even bigger headache for the Japanese automaker. The recall for faulty gas pedals has focused on models built in North America. Cars and trucks build in Japan have been cleared by Toyota. That would change if the Prius models were found to unintentionally accelerate. That's because Toyota builds the Prius in Japan.

It's too early to know if the Prius complaints will force Toyota to expand its recalls. But as we've learned in the last few months, when there have been complaints it's often lead to something much bigger for Toyota.

UPDATE: CNBC has just received the following statement from Toyota:

"After many years of exhaustive testing—by us and other outside agencies—we have found no evidence of a problem with our electronic throttle control system that could have caused unwanted acceleration. Our vehicles go through extensive electromagnetic radiation testing dynamically. We have our own test facility in Japan, we are also building one in Ann Arbor. The testing examines microwave radiation and every other type of magnetic wave and we have never been able to force our systems to fail through any of the tests that are done on them.There are many redundancies and fail safes that are built into our system. If the accelerator pedal and the throttle on the engine don’t match in their communication to each other the throttle returns to an idle position."


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