In the middle of a hurricane, things can seem out of control.
So let's regroup.
What we know: Toyota has a historic problem on its hands. Recalls are mounting. Consumers are confused. And dealers are caught between temporary fixes and alarming new issues that emerge by the hour.
What we wish we knew: Why the transportation secretary keeps throwing a grenade into Toyota's recall mess.
Ray LaHood, an Illinois-raised former congressman so enamored with Abraham Lincoln that he wrote a law that celebrated the president's 200th birthday, suddenly can't figure out how government works.
Last Monday, Toyota told the nation and its dealers the pedal issue had a fix. Parts were on the way.
LaHood admitted the process was working.
Enter Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak, who raised the possibility of Toyota's conflicting private and public statements.
And enter LaHood, who went into intended acceleration.
The normally buttoned-down Transportation Department suddenly was full of leaks.
Out came the possibility of a fine for Toyota, followed by an announcement that Toyota was being investigated for electronics issues (later amended to mean that although no evidence existed of an electronics issue in Toyota's unintended acceleration, the government would study electronics in all automakers' cars), followed by the real bomb: What guidance would LaHood give to Toyota owners affected by a series of recalls?
"If anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it," he told a congressional panel.
Within minutes, the call volume doubled at the Florida headquarters of Mike Jackson's AutoNation. Toyota's stock dropped. And a White House spokesman was compelled to say that President Barack Obama had "full confidence" in LaHood.
"It had the potential of taking it from a level of concern to panic," Jackson said of LaHood's comments. "That's not in anyone's interest."
One version of the intent here is that the transportation secretary may have been trying to get ahead of Waxman's committee.
But here's a suggestion for LaHood: Button it up.
LaHood's role is to provide leadership that drives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be more aggressive than it has been historically. Indiscriminate comments don't help that cause.
It is clear that NHTSA was asleep at the switch during the Bush administration, which coincided with the emergence of problems at Toyota.
During this moment of crisis, there's no question it's time to wake up.
What we don't need is LaHood as a loose cannon.
If Congress and the Obama administration can forge a successful partnership, NHTSA can emerge as a more aggressive agency that does its job. It's the only fair and conscientious way to handle this mess.
NHTSA doesn't need distractions.
The process doesn't need politics.
It's bad for Toyota. It's bad for everyone.