Washington, D.C. – The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will use its statutory authority to obtain documents from Toyota to determine if the automaker conducted three of its recent recalls in a timely manner. U.S. federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify NHTSA within five days of determining that a safety detect exists and promptly conduct a recall.

NHTSA is requiring Toyota to provide documents showing when and how it learned of the defects affecting approximately six million vehicles in the U.S. alone. The probe will examine how Toyota learned of the defects, such as through consumer complaints or factory testing. Investigators will also look into whether Toyota discovered the problems during pre-production or post-production of the affected vehicles.

Officials will also check whether Toyota has covered all affected models in its recent recalls to ensure that no problems were missed. The agency will obtain information on production data, incidents, complaints, warranty complaints, copies of tests, dates of meetings, timelines and supplier information.

The investigation involves three recalls of various Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including a recall related to the entrapment of throttle pedals by floor mats first announced on September 26, 2007, followed by a subsequent recall on October 6, 2009. The October recall was expanded on January 29, 2010 to include additional vehicles. The third recall, involving sticking accelerator pedals, was announced on January 21, 2010.

NHTSA has the authority to seek civil penalties for a variety of violations by manufacturers, equipment suppliers, registered importers and vehicle customizers. A manufacturer determined to have violated its statutory obligations could be liable for a maximum of US$16.4 million in civil penalties.

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