Computer glitches in Toyota cars begin to pile up

With Wednesday's recall of the 2003 Sequoia SUV, the Japanese carmaker is dealing with a string of computer-related problems this year.

Wednesday's recall of the 2003 Sequoia marks the third computer-related recall for Toyota Motor this year.

Lexus GX: recalled for electronic stability control problems. Toyota Motor

The Japanese car company announced a recall of 50,000 Sequoia 2003 model year SUVs to address problems with the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) System. If not fixed, some vehicles may not accelerate as quickly as the driver expects, Toyota said.

And earlier this month, Toyota said it would recall 9,400 Lexus GX 460 SUVs to correct a stability control system problem that could lead to a loss of control, which Consumer Reports designated as a "Don't Buy: Safety Risk."

These two recalls follow a February recall of 133,000 2010 Prius models to update software in the vehicle's antilock brake system (ABS), which could lead to inconsistent braking.

In the glitch disclosed on Wednesday, Toyota said it made a production change during the 2003 model year and published a technical service bulletin to address the issue when it was first identified in the fall 2003. "Since that time, Toyota has been responding to individual owner concerns by replacing the skid control engine control unit in Sequoias impacted by this condition," Toyota said in a statement. The engine control unit, or ECU, is an onboard computer.

There have been no reported injuries or accidents as a result of the condition, Toyota said.

The Sequoia and Lexus GX 460 recalls both involve stability control, which is one of many computer-controlled drive-by-wire technologies used in cars today. Toyota instituted the Vehicle Stability Control system in 1997 on Lexus vehicles (PDF), which it describes as "sensors, actuators, and computer electronics (that) help avoid and recover from vehicle skids and spins." Sensors detect when the vehicle's direction of travel does not correlate with "driver steering inputs." The system then uses throttle and selective brake intervention to help maintain the path of travel.

In the case of the Lexus GX 460, "it was a bad choice of (programmed) settings," said Jeff Bartlett, online deputy editor for autos at Consumer Reports, which first identified the problem. "If you were decelerating from a highway to an off-ramp--they just gave it too much latitude, really," he said in a phone interview. "It wasn't an electronic problem per se, it was more of an engineering software decision."

Toyota said it is now more proactively looking into consumer gripes. "Toyota is committed to investigating customer complaints more aggressively and to responding quickly to issues we identify in our vehicles," Steve St. Angelo, Toyota's chief quality officer for North America, said in a statement Wednesday.

Toyota has denied any computer control problems related to electronic throttle systems that may result in sudden unintended acceleration. The company attributes those problems, which involved the recall of millions of vehicles, to sticky acceleration pedals and/or accelerators that can get caught in floor mats.

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