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Updated: February 10, 2010 16:56 IST

Toyota starts fixing recalled Priuses

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FIXING THE PROBLEM: A technician operates a diagnosing equipment
FIXING THE PROBLEM: A technician operates a diagnosing equipment "TA scan" in a Prius to fix the programme of the antilock brake system on Wednesday in Tokyo. Photo: AP

Prius owners in Japan are rushing to dealers for repairs a day after Toyota’s president announced a global recall for a glitch in the car’s antilock brake system.

Instead of screwdrivers and wrenches, mechanics are fixing the problem with a laptop-like device that rewrites problem programming for the brakes.

Some 400,000 Prius vehicles globally, about half of them in Japan where the gas-electric hybrid was manufactured, will get a repair for the glitch.

Prius owners in Japan are the first to get the fix — at Toyota dealers nationwide. A similar repair for 139,000 Prius cars sold in North America will follow as dealers notify owners next week. A fix is also in the works for 53,000 Prius cars in Europe.

At a repair shop in the back of a Tokyo dealership, a mechanic plugged a long black cord dangling from a handheld device — about the size of a book — into a socket at the bottom of the dashboard, beneath the steering wheel.

An assistant opened the hood, to make sure everything was all right, turned to the mechanic in the driver’s seat, and asked, “Ready?” The mechanic began pushing buttons on the device and pressing on its black and white touch panel.

The car’s faulty programming — which can cause a slight delay in braking — was replaced with correct programming. It was all over in less than 10 minutes, without a sound or a stir.

It wasn’t until Tuesday that Toyota announced the global Prius recall. The company acknowledged last week it had quietly fixed the glitch in cars in production from last month — a disclosure that did little to assuage growing consumer doubts.

The recall for the Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid, comes on top of more than 8 million Toyota vehicles recalled in the last four months outside Japan for problems with floor mats that can entangle gas pedals and a defective gas pedal.

Toyota, which built its reputation on near-perfect quality, has been widely criticized as too slow and irresponsible in managing its recall crisis.

The scrutiny of Toyota’s possible mishandling of the problems will move to Congress in coming weeks, with hearings in the House and the Senate to see if all the causes of Toyota’s acceleration problems have been identified.

Toyota says the latest problem with the Prius produces a sensation that the brake power is weakening. That happens only on slippery or bumpy surfaces when antilock brakes kick in. If the driver steps heavily on the brake pedal, the car will stop.

The sensation is unique to hybrids. Hybrids have two braking systems because they have both a gas engine and an electric motor. One of the braking systems recharges the battery as the car runs — a feature that helps deliver superior mileage.

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