Is Tacoma defective?

Some 431 customers from around the country have reported unintended or sudden acceleration in their Toyota Tacoma pickups, resulting in 51 crashes and 12 injuries, but the automaker said there are no flaws in the trucks and that many reports were "inspired by publicity."

Federal regulators are still weighing whether to upgrade the investigation launched in February, which has broadened to include 775,000 Tacomas sold between the 2004 and 2008 model years. That probe was spurred by a Tacoma owner who noted 32 complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over acceleration problems.

A deeper investigation could force Toyota to recall the trucks if officials find a defect, and raise questions about sudden-acceleration claims that safety regulators and automakers have blamed on driver error for years. It could also address why no pickup model other than the Tacoma has garnered more than a few complaints of unexpected acceleration to the NHTSA during the same period.

Yet the NHTSA typically ends probes that don't uncover a clear fault in vehicles, and has previously ruled that without such evidence, driver error is an inescapable conclusion.

Toyota told the NHTSA last month that most of the claims to itself and the agency dealt with minor engine speed changes that have no relation to safety, and that its own investigation last October of 12 trucks reported to have sudden acceleration problems found no defects.

It also said "extensive media coverage" spurred additional reports and could explain why no other pickup has similar complaints.

"Toyota believes that it is likely that many of the consumer complaints about the general issue of unwanted acceleration … as well as many of the complaints about this subject that have been received by Toyota, were inspired by publicity," Toyota said in a letter to the NHTSA released Thursday.

"But even taking them at face value, it is clear that the majority of the complaints are related to minor drivability issues and are not indicative of a safety-related defect." Detroit Free Press

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