WASHINGTON (AP) – A U.S. Senator is questioning whether the government thoroughly investigated electronic gremlins that could have caused Toyota vehicles to accelerate unexpectedly.
In a letter sent Thursday to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says key questions remain unanswered about what caused Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems, despite investigations by NHTSA and NASA that said electronic defects weren’t to blame.
Grassley questions whether a phenomenon called “tin whiskers” inside the gas pedal assembly or other electronics could be a cause, citing unspecified information sent to his office by whistleblowers. The microscopic whiskers can sprout from solder on electronic devices, changing the flow of electricity and causing glitches. He asked the agency for its position on tin whiskers as a possible cause of Toyota’s problems, and to give him all information it gathered about the phenomenon.
Information from the whistleblowers “raises concerns that the scope of the NHTSA and NASA investigations may have been too narrow,” Grassley wrote.
Starting in 2009, Toyota was plagued by numerous complaints that its cars accelerated on their own, causing crashes, injuries and even deaths. The company eventually recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide to fix problems with sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could trap the gas pedals. Although NHTSA and NASA found no evidence of electronic problems in a February 2011 report, the recalls tarnished the company’s reputation for reliability and cut into sales. Only recently has Toyota shown signs of recovering.
NHTSA said it will review Grassley’s letter and respond to it. Toyota also said that scientific evidence has confirmed that there are no problems with its electronic controls.
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