U.S. launches probe into 2010 Prius brake issues

?U.S. auto safety regulators have launched a formal probe into braking complaints on 37,000 Toyota Prius hybrids, just after the Japanese automaker admitted that it had made changes to the brake software in models in production.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it had opened a preliminary evaluation of the problems, which it said had generated 124 complaints to its hot line, including reports of four crashes. Many of the complaints from owners say their 2010 Prius lurches over bumps or potholes and the brakes are ineffective for a few seconds.

Such investigations can typically take a number of months. If NHTSA finds evidence of a defect, it would upgrade the probe to an engineering analysis, collecting data from other automakers.

Toyota acknowledged problems with the software in the Prius earlier Thursday, saying it had corrected problems with the antilock brake system in models sold since late last month, including those shipped overseas.

But the company was still deciding what steps to take to fix the problem in Prius cars sold in Japan and overseas before late January. It also said it had launched a review of braking systems in its other hybrids.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke with Toyota president Akio Toyoda late Wednesday, “who reassured him that Toyota takes U.S. safety concerns seriously and puts safety at the top of the company’s priorities,” the department said in a statement.

(c) 2010, Detroit Free Press. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.