Toyota has been hit with a proposed class action over what one driver alleges is the automaker’s attempts to minimize its obligation under warranty to remedy a potentially deadly braking system defect found in a number of 2010-2015 hybrid vehicle models.
According to the lawsuit, defendants Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor North America, Inc. have for nearly two decades “struggled to implement a braking system” in hybrid vehicles that “functions reliably and consistently” and in line with the automaker’s safety guarantees. The case claims that even when Toyota has acknowledged its supposed brake-related shortcomings for hybrid cars, the company has “taken extraordinary measures,” including delaying a recall until affected vehicles’ warranty periods lapsed, in order to shift the monetary burden of fixing the issue onto unsuspecting customers.
According to the suit out of Ohio federal court, the braking system in the following Toyota models, and possibly a number of yet-to-be-identified Toyota and Lexus vehicles, is hampered by a booster pump assembly that can fail to operate as necessary to ensure a car’s brakes engage when the pedal is depressed:
2010-2015 Toyota Prius and Prius PHV;
2012-2015 Toyota Prius V;
2012-2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid; and
2013-2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.
As a result of the apparent defect, the above vehicle models are both less safe and less valuable than consumers would reasonably expect absent the brake problem, the lawsuit alleges.
Presented in the 56-page complaint is a timeline that dates back to February 2010, when Toyota announced a voluntary recall of all third-generation 2010 Prius models in order to address a brake defect. The case says the braking components found in the third-generation Prius, which Toyota claimed to be fixing, were the same as those found in the second-generation model, of which the lawsuit says Toyota sold nearly 750,000 units from 2004 to 2009. At the time of the February 2010 recall, the case states, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had more than 400 complaints concerning second-generation Prius hybrids.
Despite the number of consumer complaints, however, Toyota did not recall second-generation Prius vehicles nor timely provide a service bulletin with regard to the apparent braking system defect, the lawsuit claims.
While a technical service bulletin (TSB) was eventually sent out in September 2012 concerning Toyota’s hybrid braking system defect, the lawsuit alleges the automaker “knowingly and willfully” delayed the publication of such until virtually all second-generation Prius vehicles would be outside of their three-year warranty period. The lawsuit argues Toyota’s decision to delay rather than act immediately to prevent potentially deadly accidents amounts to putting “safety second to profits” in an attempt to avoid “a potential billion dollar recall/repair expense.”
It wasn’t until February 2013 that Toyota announced a voluntary safety recall relating to the brake booster issue affecting the vehicles listed above, the complaint says. According to the lawsuit, Toyota Safety Recall 13V-235 described the issue as possibly caused by a fatigue crack that could develop in the booster pump’s metal pleated bellows that could allow nitrogen gas to leak into a vehicle’s brake fluid, causing the driver’s brake pedal stroke to become longer. The decrease in hydraulic pressure linked to the issue “could affect stopping distance and increase the risk of a crash,” Toyota reportedly said.
Though the 2013 recall pertained to the braking system in the above-listed vehicle models, it did not cover the vast majority of affected Toyota hybrids stricken with the defect, the lawsuit argues. Similarly, the case alleges, not every Toyota Prius driver was made aware that they were potentially driving a dangerous vehicle until their warranty period was up.
“Instead, Toyota recalled only a portion of its 2010 Toyota Prius [sic],” the complaint reads. “It made no effort to notify owners of Affected Vehicles of this known issue with its braking systems in all the Affected Vehicles and instead kept this information from consumers until the warranty period for the Affected Vehicles had run.”
It was nearly six years later, in September 2019, that Toyota recalled 2012-2014 Camry Hybrids and 2013-2015 Avalon Hybrids over a brake booster assembly problem, the lawsuit says. Echoing its apparent playbook from years prior, Toyota issued an extended warranty for the recalled hybrids that covered repair costs “only in a small fraction” of the hundreds of thousands of affected vehicles, according to the suit. Toyota, the lawsuit alleges, made no effort to prevent the brakes from failing in affected vehicles despite possessing knowledge of the problem, and instead “simply agreed to fix a small fraction of them after the failure had been detected.”
“No owner or lessee of an Affected Vehicle would have purchased their vehicle, or at least would have paid less for their Affected Vehicle, had they known that the braking system might unexpectedly fail, or had they known that Toyota would only agree to fix a defect in the brakes after they failed instead of in advance to prevent such failure from ever occurring,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit rounds out by charging that Toyota has failed to honor the plain language of its 36-month/36,000-mile warranty agreement in that the automaker has neglected to notify hybrid vehicle owners of the braking system defect while refusing to repair the issue unless a particular fault sensor registers a specific code. Then, and only then, the lawsuit says, will Toyota instruct its dealers to replace a driver’s brake booster and brake booster pump at no charge. The case claims that as a result of Toyota’s efforts to sidestep its warranty obligations, many drivers of affected hybrid vehicles are instructed by authorized dealers to continue driving their cars “and to return for service only if their brakes actually fail to operate.”