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Feds upgrade Toyota door fire investigation, expanding to over 1.4 million vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has upgraded their investigation relating to possible fire hazards in the door of select Toyota vehicles to an engineering analysis, while also adding new models years and a large spread of popular models that could potentially be included in a recall – a recall that could reach over 1.4 million vehicles.

The NHTSA originally launched the investigation in February as they were looking to see if the 2007 model year Toyota Camry and Toyota RAV4 had a chance of catching fire. That investigation has been upgraded to an engineering analysis, often the last step before a mandated recall, while also adding vehicles from the 2008 and 2009 model year. The engineering analysis now covers the Camry, Camry Hybrid, RAV4, and Yaris from 2007 through 2009 along with the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. The original investigation covered around 830,000 vehicles but the engineering analysis phase has been expanded to include 1,424,747 vehicles in the United States. The vehicles included were built between September 2006 and August 2008.

The common tie between these 1.4+ million Toyota vehicles facing the recall is the power window master switch in the driver’s door. The NHTSA has received complaints of 161 fires – or crashes that were caused by the car catching fire – that started in the master power window switch unit mounted in the driver’s door. There have been 9 injuries stemming from these fires but no deaths. In addition to the reported fires and accidents, Toyota has received 49 warranty claims after there had been a door fire that only resulted in minor damage. Unfortunately for owners, the majority of those 161 fires reported to the NHTSA resulted in varying levels of damage with one particular Camry sedan being burnt to the ground. After launching the initial investigation earlier this year, the NHTSA found that the master power window switch assembly could be at fault and with the same switch unit being used in all of the aforementioned vehicles built from September 2006 to August 2008, the NHTSA expanded the investigation to check into the likelihood of fire in over 1.4 million cars and sport utility vehicles.

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The engineering analysis is the final step before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration orders a safety recall but at the same time, this level of investigation often reaches a conclusion without cause for a recall. 161 is a high number of vehicles to experience fire stemming from the exact same component but considering that it is out of a total of 1,424,747 vehicles in the United States – the affected models are actually a fairly small grouping. However, should the feds find that these switch assemblies are prone to catch fire, Toyota could be facing a pretty substantial recall in the United States. Toyota has worked hard over the past few years to bury the demons of the past (unintended acceleration) and while this is a far less serious recall concern, it could be a costly matter in terms of reputation and financial impact.

Source: Reuters