Feds probing Prius brakes

By Chris Isidore, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Thursday it is opening a formal investigation into problems with the braking system of Toyota's Prius hybrid.

Toyota has yet to announce a recall of the Prius, it's fourth-best selling vehicle model in the United States and the best-selling model in Japan. But it has admitted to a software glitch that is causing problems with its braking. It said it is looking further at the best way to repair the problem.

The investigation involves only 2010 model year Prius hybrids, which went on sale in the middle of last year. There are only 37,000 of those vehicles on the road, according to the agency.

The Prius, which is built in Japan, is not one of the eight models that was affected by two recalls recently to fix problems with sticking gas pedals. All of those models were built at North American plants.

NHTSA said its Office of Defects Investigation has received 124 reports from consumers about problems with the Prius brakes, including four reports that involved crashes and two which resulted in injuries. No fatalities have been reported. Investigators have spoken with consumers and conducted preliminary field work.

Late Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke with Toyota (TM) president, Akio Toyoda, who reassured him that Toyota takes U.S. safety concerns seriously and puts safety at the top of the company's priorities, according to NHTSA's statement.

Toyota had only limited comment on the probe.

"We have heard about NHTSA's intention to begin an investigation. Toyota will cooperate fully with NHTSA's investigation," the company said in a statement.

Even if the solution ends up being a relatively simple and inexpensive software adjustment, the Prius braking problems come at a bad time for Toyota, which has seen its prized reputation for quality and safety badly damaged by the recalls and the news attention given to them.

The company has estimated that the problem with the gas pedals will cost it about 100,000 sales this year, and $2 billion in repair costs and lost revenue.

Other experts say the problem could be more long-lasting if consumers who once trusted the Toyota brand decide to shop elsewhere.

Toyota said Thursday that the Prius problem is a "disconnect" in the vehicle's complex anti-lock brake system that causes less than a one-second lag before the brakes start to work. At 60 mph, though, a vehicle will have traveled nearly another 90 feet before the brakes begin to take hold.

The company also said it changed the braking system software in January for vehicles built since then. But it has yet to determine how to fix the brakes of vehicles already on the road.

-- CNN's Kyung Lah and CNNMoney.com's Peter Valdes-Dapena contributed to this report To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,960.57 -123.23 -0.72%
Nasdaq 4,449.56 -22.54 -0.50%
S&P 500 1,978.34 -9.64 -0.48%
Treasuries 2.47 -0.04 -1.59%
Data as of 1:04am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Facebook Inc 75.19 0.21 0.28%
Apple Inc 97.67 0.64 0.66%
Bank of America Corp... 15.59 -0.03 -0.19%
Ford Motor Co 17.62 -0.22 -1.23%
Applied Materials In... 21.23 -0.52 -2.41%
Data as of Jul 25

Sections

The rideshare app will launch in New York on Friday evening, as the city's taxi commission comes to terms with the technology. More

Americans with disabilities face huge financial hurdles and it starts early on, according to a recent report. More

Louisiana is now the top location for motion picture filming, supporting thousands of new jobs and small businesses. More

Americans with disabilities face huge financial hurdles and it starts early on, according to a recent report. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.