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Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition, DP13-001

American Government Topics:  Toyota Prius

Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition, DP13-001

Jeffrey Mark Giuseppe
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
9 April 2020

[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 69 (Thursday, April 9, 2020)]
[Pages 20023-20027]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-07400]



National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2018-0020]

Denial of Motor Vehicle Defect Petition, DP13-001

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Denial of petition for a defect investigation.


SUMMARY: This notice sets forth NHTSA's decision and reasons for 
denying a petition, Defect Petition (DP) (DP 13-001), submitted by Mr. 
William Rosenbluth (petitioner) in a January 23, 2013 letter to the 
Administrator of NHTSA (the ``Agency''). The petitioner requested that 
the Agency open an investigation into the decoupling of the steering 
intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 from the steering column assembly on 
model year (MY) 2004-2009 Toyota Prius vehicles (the ``Subject 
Vehicles''). After reviewing materials furnished by the petitioner, the 
manufacturer, and those already in its possession, NHTSA has concluded 
that the evidence does not warrant further investigation of the issue 
raised in the petition. The Agency accordingly has denied the petition.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Gregory Magno, Office of Defects 
Investigation (ODI), NHTSA; 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 
20590. Telephone: (202) 366-5226. Email: gregory.magno@dot.gov.


I. Introduction

    Interested persons may petition NHTSA requesting that the Agency 
begin a proceeding to decide whether to issue an order determining that 
a vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment contains a defect that 
relates to motor vehicle safety. 49 U.S.C. 30162;

[[Page 20024]]

49 CFR part 552. Upon receipt of a properly filed petition, the Agency 
conducts a review of the petition, material submitted with the 
petition, and any additional information. 49 U.S.C. 30162; 49 CFR 
552.8. The review may consist solely of a review of information already 
in the possession of the Agency, or it may include the collection of 
information from the motor vehicle manufacturer and/or other sources. 
After considering the review and taking into account appropriate 
factors, which may include, among others, allocation of Agency 
resources, Agency priorities, the likelihood of uncovering sufficient 
evidence to establish a safety-related defect, and the likelihood of 
success in any necessary enforcement litigation, the Agency will grant 
or deny the petition. See 49 U.S.C. 30162; 49 CFR 552.8.

II. Petition Background Information

    On January 30, 2013, NHTSA received a petition requesting that the 
Agency open a defect investigation submitted by Mr. William Rosenbluth 
of Automotive Systems Analysis, Inc., located in Reston, Virginia. The 
petition requested that the Agency investigate decoupling of the 
steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 \1\ from the steering column 
assembly in the Subject Vehicles. Mr. Rosenbluth's petition asserted 
that his client's MY 2005 Toyota Prius (the ``Petition Vehicle'') 
steering column linkage was improperly assembled at the time the 
vehicle was manufactured by Toyota. Included with the letter were a 
narrative from the Petitioner's client, Mr. Rosenbluth's documentation 
relating to the Petition Vehicle, and a comparison to an exemplar 

    \1\ Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. 
(Toyota) used the terms ``intermediate shaft,'' ``steering 
intermediate shaft,'' ``steering intermediate shaft assembly,'' 
``steering intermediate shaft No.2,'' ``steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2,'' and ``intermediate shaft No. 2 (upper)'' to refer 
to the same part. The petitioner used the terms ``upper steering 
intermediate shaft,'' ``steering upper intermediate shaft #2'', 
``steering intermediate shaft No. 2'', ``upper steering column 
intermediate shaft #2'' and ``upper steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2'' to refer to the same part. For consistency, the 
Agency refers to the subject part as the ``steering intermediate 
shaft assembly No. 2.''

The Petition Vehicle--2011 Complaint to NHTSA

    The owner of the Petition Vehicle previously filed a complaint in a 
Vehicle Owner's Questionnaire (VOQ) submitted to NHTSA (ODI Complaint 
No. 10437229) on November 25, 2011, that was subsequently amended by a 
December 7, 2011 email with attachments from the complainant. The 
complainant stated that he heard a snapping sound coming from the 
steering wheel while attempting to park at 5 mph on November 23, 2011. 
The steering wheel then became loose and he could not steer the 
vehicle, and the driver's airbag and all of the steering wheel mounted 
controls were disabled.
    On October 19, 2012, an ODI investigator contacted the Petition 
Vehicle owner by email regarding the VOQ he had filed and requested a 
status update. The Agency has no record of receiving a response.

III. Summary of the Petition

    The narrative of events relied upon by the petitioner was reported 
by the Petition Vehicle owner as follows:

    I had just turned left, and was straightening the wheels 
(turning the wheel back right) [to enter a parking spot] when I 
heard, and felt, a loud `snap' in the steering wheel, immediately 
upon which I knew the steering wheel was disconnected and I could no 
longer steer the car. Very, very fortunately, and only because I was 
already nearly stopped, I was able to stop the vehicle without 
incident. However, I immediately recognized that, had this happened 
in almost any other scenario than being nearly parked, the outcome 
would have been markedly different. The steering wheel is completely 
loose, not controlling anything, and all the many steering wheel 
controls are equally disconnected, including the driver's air bag 
(SRS), something that I would have needed, but wouldn't have worked, 
had I crashed into oncoming traffic or an Interstate median.
    Had I not decided to run a frivolous and unnecessary errand, I 
would have otherwise been on the Interstate, rushing home for 
Thanksgiving like many others, but now am merely stranded, in a 
motel, far from home in Jacksonville, FL, wondering what to do next. 
My low mileage (just 27,773 mi), seven year old Prius is still 
parked, undriveable.

    On January 4, 2013, at the request of the vehicle owner, the 
petitioner inspected the Petition Vehicle and observed that the 
steering wheel could rotate multiple turns, in both directions, without 
resistance or any change in the angle of the front wheels. Further 
inspection revealed that the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 
was decoupled from the steering column assembly. The petitioner 
concluded that the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 ``had not 
been properly installed on the spline output of the steering column 
assembly,'' leading to wear on the internal splines of the steering 
intermediate shaft assembly No. 2. According to the petition, the 
spline wear, evidenced by shards of spline material, allowed the shaft 
to decouple from the steering column assembly.

Subject Power Steering System

    The subject power steering system is assisted by an electric motor 
linked to the steering column assembly. Steering torque is transmitted 
to a manual steering rack via a pair of intermediate shafts and a 
sliding yoke assembly. Image 1 below illustrates the Toyota Prius 
steering system and the components subjected to the two recalls.

[[Page 20025]]


Toyota's First Related Recall (06V188--Intermediate Shaft No. 2)

    On May 30, 2006, Toyota submitted a Defect Information Report to 
notify NHTSA of Special Service Campaign (SSC) 60C (NHTSA Recall 
06V188) to recall 170,856 MY 2004-2006 Toyota Prius vehicles produced 
between August 5, 2003, and November 10, 2005. The ``Description of 
Problem'' contained in the report stated as follows:

    In the subject Prius vehicles equipped with an electric power 
steering system, due to insufficient strength at the steering 
intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 and sliding yoke which connects 
the steering wheel to the steering gear box, there is a possibility 
that the connection at the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 
2 or the intermediate extension shaft may become loose or the 
steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 sleeve may develop a 
crack under certain operating conditions where a large force is 
repeatedly applied to the connection (such as when the wheel is 
turned forcefully to the locked position at low speed or the tire 
contacts roadside curbs while driving). In the worst case, if the 
vehicle continues to be operated in this condition, the connection 
may separate or the shaft sleeve may fracture, which could result in 
the loss of steering control.

    Vehicle owners were notified to return their vehicles to any Toyota 
dealer for replacement of the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 
2. The repair under SSC 60C (NHTSA Recall 06V188) required the old 
shaft to be decoupled from the steering column assembly so that the new 
replacement shaft could be connected to the steering column assembly. 
As of Toyota's submission of its sixth and final required quarterly 
report in 2007, the completion rate for this recall stood at 90%.

Toyota's Second Related Recall (12V537--Intermediate Shaft No. 1)

    On November 14, 2012, Toyota submitted a Defect Information Report 
to notify NHTSA of Safety Recall C0T (NHTSA Recall 12V537), to recall 
669,705 MY 2004-2009 Toyota Prius vehicles produced from August 5, 
2003, through March 30, 2009. This recall included vehicles within the 
scope of NHTSA Recall 06V188, but also expanded the scope. The 
Description of Problem contained in Toyota's submission is as follows:

    The steering shaft system of the subject vehicles consists of a 
steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2, steering sliding yoke 
sub-assembly, and steering intermediate (extension) shaft No. 1. Due 
to insufficient hardness of the extension shaft supplied by JTEKT, 
the splines which connect the extension shaft to the steering gear 
box may deform if the steering wheel is frequently and forcefully 
turned to the full-lock position while driving at a slow speed. This 

[[Page 20026]]

create an increased backlash, and splines may eventually wear out 
over time, which could result in loss of steering ability.

    Vehicle owners were notified by first-class mail to return their 
vehicles to any Toyota dealer, which would ``inspect the extension 
shaft, and, if the vehicle is equipped with an extension shaft produced 
by JTEKT, the dealer will replace it with an improved one.''
    According to the Defect Information Report, only the steering 
intermediate extension shaft No. 1 was affected by Safety Recall C0T. 
The steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 was not affected and no 
repairs to or removal of the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 
were specified in the recall procedure. As of Toyota's submission of 
its sixth and final required quarterly report in 2014, the completion 
rate for this recall was 78%. The vehicle service history provided by 
Toyota to ODI indicates that this corrective action was not completed 
on the Petition Vehicle.

IV. Toyota Response to ODI's Information Request

    To further assess the scope of the subject problem and to review 
the recall remedy procedures for both safety recalls, ODI requested 
information from Toyota. On June 4, 2013, ODI sent an Information 
Request (IR) letter to Toyota concerning decoupling or separation of 
the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 from the steering column 
assembly in the Subject Vehicles. The petition and twelve potentially 
related VOQs were enclosed. Twelve additional VOQs were received during 
the Agency's review of the petition.
    With the exception of the vehicles referenced in the twelve ODI 
VOQs enclosed with the IR letter and this petition, Toyota's IR 
response indicated that it had not located any other information that 
indicates a decoupling or separation of the steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2 from the steering column assembly in the Subject 

V. ODI's Analysis

    To assess whether the Subject Vehicles demonstrate a risk of 
steering detachment, ODI's review and analysis of this petition 
included the following:
     Review of the petition and its enclosures;
     Review of the subject steering system layout;
     Analysis of the Petition Vehicle's history, including its 
repair history;
     Review and follow-up of potentially related VOQs;
     Review and analysis of NHTSA Recalls 06V188 and 12V537; 
     Requests for and analysis of complaint, claim, field 
report, service history, and warranty information from Toyota.
    ODI's analysis of these factors is outlined below.

Petition Vehicle History

Oct 2004......................  .................  Vehicle built (from
Nov 2004......................  7 mi.............  Shipped to dealer,
                                                    titled (from Vehicle
                                                    History Report).
Dec 2006......................  10,623 mi........  Recall 06V188
                                                    conducted, unrelated
                                                    brake inspection
                                                    (from Petition).
Feb 2009......................  20,666 mi........  ``Body elec- minor''
                                                    repairs (from
Nov 2010......................  22,698 mi........  Floor mat recall,
                                                    multiple repairs
                                                    (from Petition).
Nov 2011......................  27,773 mi........  Steering incident,
                                                    complaint to NHTSA
                                                    (from VOQ).

Potentially Related VOQs

    Excluding the petition (which duplicates the original complaint), 
ODI identified twenty-five potentially related VOQs received from 2011 
to date (averaging three annually with three received in 2019). 
Eighteen of the complaints cited a complete decoupling between the 
steering wheel and steering system. The seven additional complaints 
cited precursor symptoms (clanking noises and play in the steering) 
without the separation. Four of the seven received dealer diagnoses 
that a portion of the steering shaft needed replacement. Two additional 
complaints advised that they had experienced the symptom but were 
uninterested in seeking repairs. Fourteen of the complaints (all of 
which involved separations) were reported during parking maneuvers (at 
or below 5 mph) with the remaining separation complaints taking place 
at speeds between 10 and 25 mph. The complaints with the precursor 
symptoms did not cite a specific vehicle speed. Seven of the most 
recent nine complaints (CY16-19) involved vehicles with over 150,000 
miles of service or prior collisions or salvage titles.\2\

    \2\ Specifically, these vehicles had the following mileage/
history: 161,000; 193,000; 217,029; 120,000; 146,000; mileage 
unknown (salvage title); 101,000 (previous frontal collision 
damage); 140,400 (previous rear collision damage); 186,600 (salvage 

    In addition to the petition vehicle, four complaints (three 
separations and one precursor) were attributed to Steering Shaft #2 
separation and all took place an average of five years after receiving 
the remedy for the 06V188 recall. Three of these occurred between 
recall remedies, with the fourth occurring after both recall remedies. 
All related incidents were compared (Table 1) to recall remedy dates 
for the related safety recalls with no apparent pattern emerging to 
point to a particular procedure or set of circumstances.

                          Table 1--Incident Timing Relative to Recall Remedy Procedures
         06V188 performed?                 Incident timing           Precursor    Steering wheel       Total
                                                                   (noise/play)      free-spin
No.................................  After 12V537 remedy (no                   1               3               4
                                     Prior to any remedy........  ..............               4               4
Yes................................  Between 06V188 & 12V537                   2               4               6

[[Page 20027]]

                                     After both remedies........               4               7              11
    Total..........................  ...........................               7              18              25

    Three potentially related crashes were considered and excluded from 
these figures. The first incident involved a 2007 Prius losing control 
on a curve while driving. It occurred in late 2013 not long after 
receiving the 12V537 remedy. Multiple ODI follow-ups with the 
complainant produced no further information. Circumstances and damage 
descriptions of the vehicle indicate that a steering shaft was unlikely 
to have caused the incident. The second collision occurred in late 2016 
and the driver reported hearing a warning chime while driving followed 
by the steering ``seizing to the right,'' leading to frontal impact of 
a roadside pole. The subject vehicle was a 2007 Prius and the incident 
took place over three years after receiving the 12V537 remedy. A 
follow-up interview uncovered no further information. In the third, a 
2009 Prius drove off the road in icy conditions in January 2017. 
Neither the complaint description nor follow-up information gathered 
from the complainant point to a steering shaft separation.

Safety Recall Procedures

    Recalls 06V188 and 12V537 were also reviewed to assess whether the 
remedy procedures could have contributed to the condition experienced 
and to assess the impact of any revisions. No discernible impact to 
steering shaft integrity was identified in any of the procedures.

Additional Data From Toyota

    In addition to the VOQs, ODI asked Toyota in an IR letter to 
identify any additional incidents of steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2 having decoupled or separated from the steering column 
assembly on MY 2004-2009 Toyota Prius vehicles that were contained in 
Toyota's complaint, claim, field report and warranty data. No 
additional incidents were identified.


    A review of the petition indicates that the Petition Vehicle's 
coupler for steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 was partially 
engaged to the steering column output shaft. The connection between the 
output shaft and intermediate shaft No. 2 lacked integrity because the 
output shaft was not fully engaged in the coupler and did not capture 
the coupler pinch bolt. The petitioner stated that he had no knowledge 
of any ``. . . intervening repair to the steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2 between the time of vehicle manufacture and my 
inspection. The recall procedure [for the lower intermediate steering 
shaft No. 1] specifically instructs technicians to avoid any operations 
on the steering intermediate shaft assembly No. 2.'' The petitioner 
also stated, ``the steering column intermediate shaft assembly No. 2 
separation is not part of the Toyota steering recall 12V537 or any of 
its predecessor versions.'' The petitioner concluded, in his opinion, 
that ``the Petition Vehicle steering column linkage was improperly 
assembled at its original manufacturing point and thus contained a 
latent manufacturing defect.''
    Toyota's vehicle service history for the Petition Vehicle shows 
that NHTSA Recall 06V188 (SSC 60C) for steering intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2 replacement was completed on December 12, 2006. Evidence 
from the petition indicates that the coupler joining intermediate shaft 
assembly No. 2 and the steering column output shaft may have been 
improperly installed so the coupler pinch bolt was not engaged in the 
corresponding notch in column output shaft when the recall remedy was 
performed. This improper installation would lead to the kind of 
abnormal and excessive wear shown in photographs attached to the 
petition. When this wear reached a certain point, it would allow the 
intermediate shaft coupler to separate from the steering column output 
shaft. Since this occurred in the Petition Vehicle after performance of 
the recall remedy for NHTSA Recall 06V188 and not before, the incident 
is likely the result of a poorly performed recall repair and not the 
assembly failure asserted by the petitioner.
    NHTSA also observes that the rate of related consumer complaints 
(twenty-five over an eight-year period from a population of over 
600,000 vehicles) is relatively low and does not appear to be 
attributable to either recall action. ODI's review of consumer 
complaints did not indicate any apparent trend regarding the alleged 
failures occurring, relative to when the two recalls were performed, or 
the circumstances under which the failures occurred. Post-Recall 
12V537, the subject vehicle population has not exhibited a safety 
defect trend relating to its steering shaft, with the few complaints 
received involving high-mileage or damaged vehicles, suggesting 
isolated vehicle repair errors. Given these conditions, the safety 
recalls appear to have adequately addressed the safety defects within 
the subject vehicles related to the steering shaft assembly, and 
further investigation of the issue is not warranted at this time.

VI. Conclusion

    NHTSA is authorized to issue an order requiring notification and 
remedy of a defect if the Agency's investigation shows a defect in 
design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle that presents 
an unreasonable risk to safety. 49 U.S.C. 30102(a)(9), 30118. Given the 
absence of a defect trend in the complaint data and a thorough 
assessment of the potential risks to safety presented in the petition, 
it is unlikely that an order concerning the notification and remedy of 
a safety-related defect would be issued due to any investigation opened 
as a result of granting this petition. Therefore, and upon full 
consideration of the information presented in the petition and the 
potential risks to safety, the petition is denied.
    The Agency retains the authority to revisit these issues if 
warranted in the future if conditions change or new evidence arises.

(Authority: 49 U.S.C. 30162; 49 CFR part 552; delegations of 
authority at 49 CFR 1.95 and 501.8)

Jeffrey Mark Giuseppe,
Associate Administrator for Enforcement.
[FR Doc. 2020-07400 Filed 4-8-20; 8:45 am]

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