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Another Toyota Recall

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Toyota is recalling its 2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid SUVs after testing revealed the seatbelt systems on the SUVs are defective. The Highlander recall is just the latest quality issue involving Toyota. Toyota, once considered to be among the most reliable car makers in the market, has quickly fallen from grace over the past several years. Last November “Consumer Affairs” said Toyota “is showing cracks in its armor” and will no longer get automatic recommendations from the magazine for new or redesigned vehicles. It also removed several Toyota vehicles from its recommended list because of quality issues.

Defective seatbelts have been a problem for Toyota. Last November, a civil trial opened in California in the case of a man who was killed when the seatbelt of his 2002 Toyota Corolla jammed, leaving him trapped in a burning car. Raminder Singh, a 60-year-old security guard, and his 19-year-old son were driving to a shoe shop when their Toyota Corolla was struck by another vehicle and veered off the road and smashed into a tree. The son was able to free himself from his seatbelt, but the elder Singh’s seatbelt jammed. By the time the son crawled out of the car to seek help, the car’s engine had caught fire, and he could do nothing but watch as his father burned to death inside the wreckage.

The Toyota Corolla involved in Singh’s death was manufactured at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) facility in California. Toyota and General Motors embarked on the NUMMI joint venture in 1984, and the California plant produces the Corolla subcompact, Tacoma pickup truck and the Pontiac vibe wagon.

The NUMMI plant is at the center of a second California lawsuit, in which a certified auditor at the plant accuses her superiors of deleting or downgrading defect reports from her vehicle reports. Those problems included defective parts like broken seat belts and bad headlights, as well as poor braking systems and steering wheel alignment problems. The Toyota and General Motors whistleblower lawsuit also claims that managers retaliated against the employee when she objected. According to the complaint against General Motors and Toyota, the plaintiff has been receiving medical treatment for stress, depression, fatigue, insomnia and panic attacks as a result of the poor treatment she was subjected to at NUMMI.

According the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this latest recall involves 90,000 model year 2008 Highlander and Highlander hybrid sport utility vehicles. The NHTSA discovered during compliance testing that the locking mechanism on the Highlander seat belts cannot secure properly when certain rear-facing child safety seats are used, which could cause the child seats to move. However, the NHTSA said the belt would still lock securely during an accident. Toyota said it will notify owners of the vehicles by letter of the recall in early June, he said. The component will be replaced without charge.

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