LOS ANGELES -- Already facing a number of quality-related problems, Toyota Motor Corp. must submit information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today in response to complaints about rusted frames on 2000 and 2001 Toyota Tundra pickups.
NHTSA began a preliminary evaluation of the problem Oct. 6 and gave Toyota the Nov. 20 deadline.
“It is too early to speculate what we will do for Tundra,” Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said. “They're only looking at one specific portion of the frame -- the cross member that supports the spare tire -- not the entire frame.”
The frames were manufactured by Dana Corp., which also supplied the frames for the 750,000 Tacoma pickups that suffered similar rust problems and were the subject of voluntary recalls and buybacks last year.
Dana spokesman Chuck Hartlage said today that the supplier was helping Toyota with the Tundra investigation.
NHTSA is investigating 20 reports that relate to spare-tire separation and brake system failures resulting from severe frame corrosion on the pickups.
As of yesterday, the federal agency had received 238 complaints about the 2000 models and 48 about the 2001 models. The complaints range from brake-line corrosion to corrosion of the entire frame. More than 70 complaints had been posted since NHTSA launched its investigation in October.
“My mechanic suggested that it was unsafe to drive because the brake line connection points were so corroded that they could fail while in operation,” one consumer wrote in his complaint.
There have been reports of three injuries but no deaths.
Lyons confirmed that Dana supplied the frames. In March 2008, Toyota agreed to buy back 1995-2000 Tacomas at 150 percent of the high-end Kelley Blue Book value.
In November 2008, Toyota issued a recall on 2001 to 2004 Tacomas. If no rust had occurred, Toyota automatically extended the warranty to 15 years with unlimited mileage. If there was rust, the frames were replaced.
Lyons said no connection exists between the Tacoma and Tundra frames.
“The frames were built to a different design and at different plants,” he said, “so this is not apples to apples.”
Lyons said the Tacoma and Tundra frames were built at different Dana plants. He said Toyota does not blame Dana.
“Ultimately, this is our vehicle and our responsibility,” Lyons said.
He said he does not know the next step, but NHTSA could do an engineering analysis of the truck, which is more extensive than the preliminary examination.
Toyota already is entangled in high-profile lawsuits involving rollovers and faulty steering rods and is facing a huge recall related to unintended acceleration.
Lyons said the company has not decided what the fix will be for complaints about unintended acceleration in certain Toyota and Lexus models. Last month the company sent letters to 3.8 million owners urging them to remove the floor mats from their vehicles while the company ponders how to fix the problem.
Robert Sherefkin contributed to this report