The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will open an investigation into a possible flaw in the steering systems for the 2009-2010 Corolla, likely to lead to another massive recall for Toyota, ABC News has learned.
NHTSA says it has received 163 complaints about the steering causing the Corollas to veer from side-to-side. A number of accidents and injuries have been tied to the issue, according to federal officials.
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Approximately 363,000 2009 Toyota Corollas and 136,000 2010 Toyota Corollas are affected, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.
The problems emerged soon after Toyota introduced a new electrical system for its power steering with the 2009 Corolla model.
Safety expert Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. said that in recent years complaints relating to steering have surged.
"We look at complaints from 2008, there's about two complaints related to steering," said Kane. "All of sudden in 2009 model year, you see the complaints shoot up to nearly 200 complaints related to steering issues."
Owners have reported their cars suddenly veered side to side, even though they never turned the steering wheel.
"It's hard to say which is worse, a runaway vehicle or a car that wants to steer itself off the road," Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety, told ABC News. "Either one is a serious safety hazard."
As for the runaway cars, Toyota and U.S. safety regulators have known for more than two years that some new electronic systems in some models had design flaws.
A 2007 government tape shows test drivers for the federal safety agency, NHTSA, having difficulty turning off Toyota models that had a new keyless ignition system.
"Your last resort is to cut off the engine and it shows it's very difficult to shut the engine down with one of these buttons that takes three seconds to work," said Ditlow.
Toyota did not implement a brake over-ride system used by some other car companies that cuts off acceleration when the brake is applied. In his announcement today, the motor company's CEO said new models of vehicles will have the brake over-ride, but he said nothing about retrofitting Toyota vehicles already on the road.