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Dealers Work Overtime On Toyota Recalls

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Toyota dealerships are making their way through a backlog of customers' cars during the massive recall involving the gas pedals on millions of cars. Toyota has said it is working on plans to resolve another possible safety problem — this one involving the anti-lock brakes on the Prius hybrid. So far, Toyota has not announced a recall on the Prius.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in the U.S. over the weekend, Toyota dealerships were working long hours on that massive recall involving the gas pedals on millions of cars. As we just heard, Toyota says it is working on plans to resolve another possible safety problem, this one involving antilock brakes in the Prius hybrid. So far, Toyota has not announced a recall on the Prius, but the company is expected to make an announcement soon.

NPRs Chris Arnold has been following the Toyota story, and he joins us now for more. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So what is the latest? I mean, are there any more details on that issue with the Prius?

ARNOLD: Well, with regard to the Prius, the company said that it's identified a problem with the software that controls the Prius' antilock brakes. And what's going on here is that drivers have complained that momentarily, for just a second, the brakes seem to not work, basically.

And Toyota says what's happening is that if drivers are just pressing lightly on the brake pedal at the same time that the car is shifting from what's called regenerative braking, where the brakes are recharging the batteries on the Prius, if it's shifting from that to normal hydraulic braking, there can be a brief lag - I mean, very brief. And, you know, it sounds like it's not as dangerous as an accelerator pedal that's stuck wide open, but federal safety regulators have launched an investigation into this problem, too.

MONTAGNE: And, I guess, a question: Is there anything that looks like it might be next?

ARNOLD: Well, you know, there's definitely some lingering questions here. You know, beyond the Prius issue, this whole sudden acceleration problem, there's currently a recall under way involving 11 models of cars between certain years. But last week, there was a consumer safety group - it's called Safety Research and Strategies - and they came out with a report. They've been tracking 2,262 sudden acceleration complaints from Toyota and Lexus drivers. And what was interesting there, they found that in half of those cases, the cars involved were not cars that were covered by the recall. They were Toyotas that have not been involved in this recall. So that does seem to suggest that the problem might be more widespread than Toyota is saying so far.

MONTAGNE: And of course, the media coverage of the problem with the Toyota gas pedals, it's been covered quite a bit. But let's get to - again, I think this has come up before - how dangerous is it? I mean, statistically speaking, obviously, it doesn't happen to very many people. But, you know, it doesn't want - you know, want it to be you.

ARNOLD: Right. Here's the thing, I mean, the media, of course, can tend to over-hype this kind of thing. I mean, it's a very dramatic problem when it happens. And not to belittle it. I mean, look, you know, if this if you're one of the few people this happens to, it's very scary. It can be dangerous. It looks like some people have been killed. But so far, as best we can tell, at most, 19 people have been killed over about 10 years. And by contrast, you know, 35 - or upwards of 35,000 people are killed every single year on U.S. roads and highways. And it turns out you're just much more likely to hit a deer or fall asleep at the wheel or get in an accident while driving to your dealership, you know, or something. And I actually looked up what the chances of getting struck by lightning are, and you are 30 times more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to die in a crash involving a Toyota with a sticky gas pedal.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, yeah, that might be comforting. But still, people are worried. And I gather it's not just Toyota that's had these complaints about sudden acceleration.

ARNOLD: Right. I mean, to be fair, there's been complaints about other brands of cars, too. Ford also has a relatively high rate of complaints. But Toyota has, by far, the highest rate of complaints.

MONTAGNE: Chris, thanks very much.

ARNOLD: OK, thanks Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Chris Arnold.

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