WASHINGTON -- Toyota plans to recall about 90,000 Celicas built for the 2000-01 model years to repair their daytime running lights. It sounds routine enough - except the automaker doesn't think anything is wrong with the lights.
The recall decision ends an unusual three-year tussle between Toyota Motor North America Inc. and regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It heads off a potentially more testy legal fight.
Still, the dispute "does not affect anyone's safety in the real world," says Chris Tinto, Toyota's director of regulatory affairs.
The automaker discovered about three years ago that the cars' daytime running lights violate a federal safety standard. The point of the rule is to avoid having bright daytime running lights obscure flashing turn signals.
But the Celica's turn signal is bigger and nearly three times brighter than the rule requires, the company says. So Toyota applied to NHTSA for a finding of "inconsequential noncompliance" - a kind of waiver that NHTSA routinely grants.
NHTSA ruled in April that Toyota had failed to prove there was no safety hazard. It ordered an immediate recall. Toyota appealed, citing a waiver that NHTSA gave General Motors in 1999 for noncompliant daytime running lights on some SUVs. The agency rejected that appeal early this month.
Toyota opted for a recall over further appeals. The automaker could disconnect the daytime running lights, which in the United States are permitted but not required. But, Tinto says, "That's not Toyota's way."
The company expects to have a resister ready for installation by March or April. It will decrease the intensity of the daytime running lights.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at