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Water pump woes hit Prius

Popular: Toyota's second-generation Prius was sold in Australia between November 2003 and July last year.

Toyota to fix 650,000 Prius water pumps, including more than 6500 in Australia

Toyota logo2 Dec 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

TOYOTA has confirmed 6566 examples of the previous-generation Prius hybrid – built between August 2003 and May 2007 – are affected in Australia by a “customer service campaign” to fix the water pumps in more than 650,000 MkII Prius models globally.

The latest problem to strike the world’s largest car-maker and its petrol-electric icon is not classed as a recall because it has not been deemed a safety issue, but involves a defective electric water pump that allows air bubbles to enter the cooling system, which could slow down the circulation of coolant and increase water temperatures.

Toyota says a warning light will come on if the engine begins to heat up but, if left unchecked, the car could overheat and go into ‘limp-home’ or ‘fail-safe’ mode, in which engine power is cut.

Toyota Australia has received three reports of the problem in Prius vehicles locally via its dealer network, but says no accidents or injuries have occurred as a result.

Media and communications manager Laura Hill said Toyota Australia was now sourcing newly designed components for the repair and that affected Prius owners would be advised “in the new year” to bring their vehicle in for water pump replacement, which will be carried out free of charge from around February.

“The engine will enter fail-safe mode at a certain temperature and reduce its output,” Ms Hill told GoAuto. “There is potential for the engine to overheat and eventually stop but it would take a long time and you’d have to be pretty silly.

“Because it is not a safety-related issue there is no regulation that requires us to notify customers immediately and there is no requirement for us to complete the work straight away.

“It is basically an improvement that would take place as part of the car’s next scheduled service as a matter of course. As with all service campaigns or safety recalls, there will be no cost to owners.”

Ms Hill added that any Prius owner whose engine warning light illuminates should take their vehicle to a Toyota dealer for inspection.

Most of the 650,000 affected vehicles worldwide – about 378,000 – are in North America, but the latest in a series of quality concerns to strike Toyota is expected to cost the car-maker about $US65 million ($A67.5m) in labour costs alone.

Toyota has recalled about 15.4 million vehicles worldwide since last November, including about 11 million cars in the US, to fix floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals.

The water pump issue is the second to plague the Prius, which notched up two million global sales in October to maintain its unrivalled position as the world’s top-selling hybrid vehicle.

About 400,000 current-model Prius cars were recalled for a braking problem in February, including about 2400 in Australia.

8 center imageAlthough the ongoing popularity of the Prius was demonstrated earlier this week by a line-off ceremony marking the start of production of the hybrid in Thailand, Toyota has been plagued by ongoing fallout from its vehicle safety recalls, particularly in the US.

Last month, the Japanese auto giant was forced to defend itself in the face of a class-action lawsuit in the US, attempting to dismiss economic loss claims in multi-district litigation underway in California.

A hearing on the matter was held on November 19, which Toyota later said “did not address the merits of plaintiffs’ allegations and did not consider any evidence”.

“At this early stage, this analysis by the court requires a basic assumption that the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, even though they are unproven,” the company said.

“The burden is now squarely on plaintiffs’ counsel to prove their allegations and Toyota is confident that no such proof exists.

“This lawsuit is based on a wholly unsubstantiated claim that there is a defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system that causes unintended acceleration.

“But even after months of intense publicity and multiple investigations, the plaintiffs have neither cited nor identified any specific defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system and no credible scientific theory or proof has been advanced to support the allegations in their consolidated complaint.

“We firmly believe that Toyota’s electronic throttle control system is safe, well designed, thoroughly tested, and robust. We look forward to the time when the science and engineering behind the electronic throttle control system are given a full and fair evaluation by the court.”

Four days prior to the November 19 hearing, Toyota issued a statement in response to media reports that speculated on the causes of a fatal crash in Wendover, Utah, which involved a 2008 Camry and remains under investigation by local authorities.

“As with any such a case, it is important to allow the investigation to proceed before drawing any conclusions,” the company said on November 15.

“Over the past year, on multiple occasions the initial reports on incidents involving Toyota vehicles have involved speculation and premature conclusions that proved to be inaccurate following a review of the facts.

“It is in the best interests of all those involved in this case to ensure a thorough and complete review of the incident.

“Toyota remains committed to investigating reported incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly, and will continue to work in close partnership with law enforcement agencies and federal regulators with jurisdiction over accident scenes whenever requested.”

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