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http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-fi-toyota-prius-defect-20180207-story.html

Toyota failed to fix defect that can cause Prius to overheat and lose power, dealer claims in lawsuit

After Toyota issued a 2016 recall to fix a key electronic component on its Priuses, one of California's largest dealers said the cars were still coming in after overheating and leaving drivers stranded in traffic.

Toyota said the problem on model years 2010-14 had been taken care of with a software change.
But having seen more than 100 post-recall failures, Roger Hogan — whose family owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota — warned customers about the issue and refused to resell used Priuses he'd gotten as trade-ins. Today, he has 70 of the cars, worth $1 million, parked at his dealerships.

Last year, Hogan filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court alleging that the Prius hybrid system has an unresolved safety defect that could leave cars without power. And he filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's office of defect investigations, telling the agency in a Dec. 14 letter that "there are lives needlessly at risk."


"Our responsibility begins and ends with our customers' safety," said Hogan, former president of the Southern California Toyota Dealers Assn., who has owned Toyota sales lots for nearly a quarter of a century.

In a statement Tuesday, Toyota officials rejected Hogan's allegations.

"We believe Mr. Hogan's complaint is entirely without merit, and we intend to defend vigorously against his inaccurate and misleading allegations," the company said. "Our focus remains on the safety and security of our customers."

Hogan filed his suit, which alleges breach of contract and fraud, in Orange County Superior Court last July and amended the allegations in November. Toyota sought to have the case thrown out on legal grounds, but Judge Peter Wilson ruled in December that it could go forward and set a trial for January 2019. The existence of the suit has not been previously reported.

Toyota officially recognized a problem in the hybrid system on Feb. 12, 2014, when it filed a voluntary recall with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It acknowledged a defect that could cause overheating in a device called an inverter, which controls high power transfers between the battery and the vehicle's two electric motors.

The inverter boosts the battery's 200 volts to about 500 volts to drive two electric motors, and converts the electricity from direct current to alternating current (similar to what comes out of a household outlet). When the car brakes are applied, the power flow reverses to charge the battery.

Toyota's recall fix involved unspecified changes to the vehicle's software. Toyota has not said exactly how the software reduces overheating, and its statement did not answer questions submitted by The Times about whether it could affect the vehicle's performance, fuel economy or emissions. Some automotive experts contacted by The Times say the software could affect the vehicle's performance.


Toyota was aware of the inverter defect even before issuing the Prius recall, according to the suit. It began two smaller recalls of its Highlander sport utility vehicles, covering 2006 to 2010 models, about a year before the Prius recall to remedy overheating problems in a nearly identical inverter. In the Highlander recall, the inverter was replaced, the lawsuit said.

Hogan's suit and complaint alleges that the software fix was a cheap way out that failed to remedy the problem.

Hogan asserts in his letter to NHTSA that the manufacturer has sold more 800,000 Prius models in the U.S. with defective inverters and 80,000 hybrid Highlanders with the problem. The software fix costs $80, while an inverter replacement costs more than $2,000 per vehicle. Hogan said the software fix is saving the company $1.3 billion as compared with replacing the inverters.

Toyota's statement Tuesday defended the validity of the software fix, which it said allows a vehicle to move at a slow speed even if the inverter overheats and fails.

"Toyota stands behind the effectiveness and appropriateness of the Prius inverter recall remedy, which was designed to ensure operation of the vehicle in failsafe driving mode in the unlikely event of an inverter failure," the company said. "Once in failsafe mode, the vehicle can be safely driven for some distance at a reduced speed. This feature, which is common across the automotive industry, was designed to enhance vehicle safety."

When the inverter fails, the car's diagnostic system notifies the driver with a "check hybrid system" light on the dashboard and stores diagnostic codes that allow technicians to find the problem. Technicians who work for Hogan told him that all of the inverters returned with such codes have shown signs of soot and charring inside the inverter housing.

Has the inverter on your 2010-14 Prius overheated on you since the 2016 recall fix? Email [email protected] to tell us your story. »
 

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Maybe it's me, but the end of that article is just slightly biased. Shouldn't it be asking if you have a 2010-2014 Prius and if so, what issues have you had or not had?

Cars have defects. All of them. Whether from the factory, due to worn items, or from other factors. Asking for a small percentage of people to come forward while ignoring the masses who don't have problems is completely biased reporting.

Wife bought a new 2014 Prius C - we sold it to her father not too long ago. It has had zero issues, hybrid or other.
 

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Maybe it's me, but the end of that article is just slightly biased. Shouldn't it be asking if you have a 2010-2014 Prius and if so, what issues have you had or not had?

Cars have defects. All of them. Whether from the factory, due to worn items, or from other factors. Asking for a small percentage of people to come forward while ignoring the masses who don't have problems is completely biased reporting.

Wife bought a new 2014 Prius C - we sold it to her father not too long ago. It has had zero issues, hybrid or other.
How was the MPGs?

I'm not going to buy a car that is likely to stall out in the middle of the road, with no warning and no capacity for neutral shift to coast. There should be national boards that review car computer/engine interactions prior to manufacture and puts the car through appropriate stress tests before clearance to market (no notification of what fails, of course, that's the responsibility of the manufacturer to figure out).
 

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How was the MPGs?

I'm not going to buy a car that is likely to stall out in the middle of the road, with no warning and no capacity for neutral shift to coast. There should be national boards that review car computer/engine interactions prior to manufacture and puts the car through appropriate stress tests before clearance to market (no notification of what fails, of course, that's the responsibility of the manufacturer to figure out).
You're going to have a hard time finding a car soon, the reason cars are moving towards a purely electronic controlled (including shifting) transmission is due to the rise of CVT's. It isn't just Prius, Toyota, or hybrids that have these anymore. I guess you should just never buy a vehicle. Although you can put a manual into neutral - if something in the differential is broken, the car may not roll. If a caliper seizes, it may be nearly impossible to push. Or it rolls fine, but you're in the middle of a 60mph freeway and you just don't want to be stupid enough to try and push it off the road at the risk of being hit....

The C got in the 40's for gas mileage - both weather and type of driving have large variants on the overall MPG.

We also have a 2017 Prius V, gets about the same mileage.
 

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I won't be so quick to defend Toyota corporate, now that I own one. For one example, a fellow poster has a 1996 Camry LE and bought a 2007 Camry LE. both cars get parked on the street in front of his house. Only the 2007 has the dash melting issue. Another example is 2006 and newer Toyotas having interior rattle and vibration issues that older Toyotas as well as other brands don't have. The Toyota corporate or TMUSA leadership is directing pennies to be pinched. In the sudden acceleration cases, Toyota execs demanded that it was Pep Boys or Auto Zone floor mats, rather than drive-by-wire gas pedals in it's cars. OK, why were aftermarket floor mats not causing trouble decades earlier?

Toyota is no longer the company it was back in the 60s, 70s or 80s. Today's Toyota corporate leadership is indistinguishable from those running GM, Ford, Chrysler.
 

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Thought you all would want to see this LA Times article regarding customer safety:

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-fi-toyota-prius-investigation-20180423-story.html

Electrical defects cause Priuses to stall; Toyota may be bracing for a legal fight as safety worries grow

Ralph Vartabedian
By RALPH VARTABEDIAN
APR 23, 2018 | 6:00 AM

Electrical defects cause Priuses to stall; Toyota may be bracing for a legal fight as safety worries grow
This defective power inverter came out of a 2012 Prius. The car lost power in January while being driven in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The burn marks show how the inverter overheated and melted components. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Toyota is closely monitoring breakdowns in the electrical power system of some Prius models, as failures continue to mount across the nation despite a 2014 safety recall that was supposed to fix the problem, according to Toyota documents reviewed by The Times.

The Toyota documents show that more than 800 defective electrical components from Toyota Prius models were returned from dealers to the automaker and its outside technical consultant over less than a two-month period this year after electrical system failures.

The problem, in which overheating causes damage to key electrical parts and a resulting loss of power that can leave motorists stranded, has been dogging Toyota for about seven years. But the safety issue is now growing in scope.

A woman driving a Prius in Florida last year was seriously injured when she lost power on a busy four-lane highway and was rear-ended at about 55 miles per hour. Another Prius crash on an Orange County freeway that caused injuries was reported to federal safety regulators in 2016, according to federal records.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is reviewing a petition filed in December by a Southern California Toyota dealer, Roger Hogan, asking for a formal defect investigation. The federal agency said it has sought additional information from Hogan, who owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota, and met with Toyota representatives in its review. The NHTSA review follows a lawsuit that Hogan filed last year and a separate suit seeking class-action status that was filed in federal court by Los Angeles attorney Skip Miller.

The issue has caught the attention of congressional safety advocates as well. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance, and Data Security, has begun looking into the Prius problem, according to his staff.

The overheating problem occurs in a device known as an inverter, which controls amounts of power flowing between the car's battery and its two electric motors. The device is subject to high internal temperatures that can damage transistors that convert lower-voltage direct current from the battery to higher-voltage alternating current for the motor. The power flow is reversed when the brakes are applied and electricity flows back to charge the battery.

In a statement, Toyota said, "We are continuing to monitor claims and developments in the field, and we will take any appropriate action."

The automaker said that the Prius "has a long history as a safe and reliable vehicle and is among Toyota's most popular models" and that it is "committed to the safety and security of our customers."

Officials at Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Texas appear to be bracing for a big fight. In an unusual move, Toyota began requiring in January that its dealers return every failed inverter or its main component, known as an intelligent power module, to the company's North American headquarters in Texas, according to Hogan. Prior to that, Toyota would request only a sampling of failed parts, he said.

Then on Feb. 8, Toyota instructed dealers to send the failed inverters or modules to Exponent, an engineering and consulting firm in Menlo Park that often helps corporations weather product liability crises.

Exponent was tapped by Toyota in 2010 to defend against allegations that its Camry and other models were subject to sudden acceleration that caused numerous deaths across the nation and triggered a raft of lawsuits. Toyota was ultimately fined a then-record $1.2 billion by federal regulators for the defects and its failure to promptly notify NHTSA of them. The company was released from deferred criminal prosecution only last year.

Toyota issued a safety recall in 2014 that covered as many as 800,000 Prius models built between 2010 and 2014. The recall documents indicated that Toyota had been tracking the problem with the inverter since 2011, when its engineers found cracked solder joints that resulted from "excessive thermal stress."

The 2014 recall modified the software that controls both the inverter and the car's entire drivetrain computer.

Claremont Toyota refuses to sell these Priuses because it believes a defect can cause them to lose power and stop. Dealer Roger Hogan, who is suing Toyota, is flanked by Roger Hogan Jr., left, and Stephen Hogan. The family owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota.
Claremont Toyota refuses to sell these Priuses because it believes a defect can cause them to lose power and stop. Dealer Roger Hogan, who is suing Toyota, is flanked by Roger Hogan Jr., left, and Stephen Hogan. The family owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The lawsuits contend that the software fix has failed to remedy the problem, citing numerous cases in which Prius electrical systems shut down even after the software was modified. Hogan said he has had 100 Priuses come into his dealerships with inverters that failed after the recall software was installed.

In his petition for a new recall, Hogan alleges that the software fix was aimed at avoiding a much more expensive replacement of the inverter and its main component, the intelligent power module, which can cost $2,000 or more. The software fix costs only $80 per vehicle, he said.

When the inverter overheats, the Prius either loses all power or goes into what the company calls "limp-home" mode, which allows it to be driven at very low speed. Hogan says he is refusing to sell more than 70 Priuses that he took on trade-in because he believes they are unsafe.

A Toyota spokesperson rejected Hogan's allegations, saying that the recall was intended to fix the possibility that an inverter failure could cause the hybrid power system to shut down instead of entering limp-home mode.

The company said Hogan "is pursuing his Prius recall remedy allegations to advance his $100-million lawsuit against Toyota, take the focus away from his dealerships' poor performance and blame Toyota for his son's failure to meet basic qualifications to serve as a general manager at one of his dealerships." It noted that 1,200 other dealers "have not made these accusations."

Hogan denied that assertion.

Hogan and some Toyota owners say that in some inverter failures the car still loses all power and does not enter limp-home mode. In one vehicle brought to Hogan's dealership, the inverter got so hot that holes were melted through its aluminum case. Others had internal parts coated with soot, he said.

A sudden power loss is generally considered a serious safety defect. General Motors was forced to recall 29 million cars in North America starting in 2014 when a defective ignition switch would suddenly shut off the engine. GM offered compensation for 124 deaths related to the defect.

Instances in which a Prius loss of power has caused a crash are now surfacing.

Margaret Long, who lives in Port Charlotte, Fla., was driving to a hospital last August to pick up her husband when she lost power in her 2010 Prius on a busy four-lane highway. Long, a retired college instructor who was 80 at the time, was rammed at about 55 miles per hour from behind, driving her car into the center median.

Long said the accident caused a cracked vertebra, two cracked ribs and a punctured lung. A head injury from the accident has affected her memory, as well.

Long's husband, Marlin, suspects the car lost power because of an inverter failure. The vehicle records show the Prius received the updated software from the recall in 2014. The vehicle was declared a total loss by the insurer and was auctioned off.

Obray George Grubbs witnessed the accident and came to Long's aid. In an interview, Grubbs said Long's car was completely stopped as cars swerved around it.

"I said to myself, this doesn't look good," he recalled. A Toyota Camry came up at full speed and hit Long with so much force that it broke the Prius seat back, leaving Long lying on her back when Grubbs walked up to help her. "I said, ma'am, just hold still."

In February 2016, a motorist from San Diego filed a complaint with NHTSA about his 2012 Prius, which lost power on Interstate 5, came to a stop and was rear-ended, sending him to a hospital emergency room. NHTSA redacted the individual's name on its website, but the complaint included seven detailed supporting documents, in which the motorist focused on an inverter failure as the cause.

In his complaint, the motorist said that after dozens of phone calls, "Toyota has avoided any recognition of the fact that the car stalled."

[email protected]

Follow me on Twitter @rvartabedian
 
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