Archive for February 2nd, 2010

February 2, 2010

Q and A: Toyota says it’s found a fix to its problem of sticky accelerator pedals

Toyota says it’s found a fix to its problem of sticky accelerator pedals.

That problem has triggered one of the company’s largest recalls, an unprecedented halt in sales and a public relations headache.

But amid the avalanche of news reports, some drivers are still scratching their heads over the basics. How does a pedal get “sticky”? And how worried should I be? Here are some answers.

Q: How do I know if my car or truck is affected?

A: The following eight models in the U.S. and Canada are affected by a recall involving faulty gas pedals: the 2009-10 Corolla compact car, the 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-10 Avalon full-size sedan, the 2007-10 Camry midsize sedan, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-10 Tundra pickup, the 2008-10 Sequoia SUV and the 2009-10 RAV4 crossover. Crossovers are SUV-like in size but sit on a car instead of a truck frame.

There are some exceptions. Not all models of the Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander are affected by the recall. All of these models produced in Japan, and some produced in the U.S., have accelerators made by another parts supplier whose components are not known to be problematic. Some of these vehicles can be identified by checking the vehicle identification number, or VIN.

All Matrix, Avalon, Tundra and Sequoia models listed above are included in the recall.

Q: What is a VIN and why is it important?

A: A VIN is a 17-character sequence of numbers and letters that is unique to each vehicle. Your VIN can be seen through the windshield on the front of the driver-side dashboard.

If you drive one of the potential exceptions — the Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander — check the VIN. If it begins with a “J,” that means it was produced in Japan and isn’t included in the recall. If it does not begin with a J, only a technician can determine if the vehicle has been recalled, so you’ll have to take it to a dealership.

Q: OK, my car is covered by the recall. Now what?

A: The next step is to have it fixed at a dealership. Starting this week and continuing over the next several weeks, Toyota will send letters to customers telling them when and where they can have their vehicles repaired. Parts will begin arriving at dealerships this week and repairs will begin as early as this weekend.

Q: Won’t dealers be swamped? How long will it take to get an appointment?

A: Toyota says dealers will have extended hours and some will keep their doors open around the clock to fix customer vehicles.

“I imagine we’ll be open till at least midnight,” said Adam Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, who owns a Toyota dealership in Maine.

Q: Is my vehicle safe to drive for the time being?

A: Toyota has said a stuck pedal is very rare. Drivers who have never experienced the problem can continue using their cars until they are instructed to take their model in for repairs, the auto maker says.

Rik Paul, automotive editor for Consumer Reports, which last week suspended its “Recommended” ratings on the recalled Toyota models, says: “As long as the accelerator pedal is operating smoothly and freely and returning to its upright position, the car is likely fine to drive. Just be aware of those symptoms.”

Q: What should I do if my pedal gets stuck?

A: Safety experts say the best thing to do if the gas pedal sticks is to hit the brake hard and hold it firmly, then shift into neutral or shut the car off and steer to the curb. They say drivers should not pump the brake.

Q: Suppose I’ve experienced the problem — should I wait for Toyota to contact me?

A: No. Drivers who have experienced a sticky or stuck pedal should stop driving their cars and call a Toyota dealer right away. Many dealers are holding these cars and trucks until replacement parts arrive and providing drivers with loaner cars in the meantime.

Q: What exactly is the cause of the problem, and what is the fix?

A: Engineers traced the problem to a friction device in the assembly that is supposed to provide the proper pedal “feel” by adding resistance, Toyota said in a statement.

The device has a shoe that rubs against a nearby metal surface during normal pedal use. But wear and environmental conditions can over time cause the pedals to not operate smoothly or in rare cases stick partially open.

The company said a steel reinforcement bar will be installed into the gas pedal assembly, reducing the friction.

Q: How long will the repair take?

A: Toyota says the repair involves about 30 minutes of work. Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said a good technician likely will be able to finish the repair in less time than that.

Customers will not be charged for the repair, Toyota said.

Q: How long will the repair last?

A: Toyota says the repair is good for the life of the vehicle and will be warranty-covered.

Q: I thought Toyota’s problem was over floor mats trapping the gas pedal. Now I’m being told the problem has to do a flaw with the gas pedal itself. Which is it?

A: Toyota has issued two recalls to fix problems of unintended acceleration. The current recall surrounds a flaw in the gas pedal system and affects 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S.

In November, Toyota issued a separate recall of 4.2 million vehicles due to a risk of the driver-side floor mat trapping the gas pedal. That recall affects the following models: the 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and the 2006-2010 Lexus IS250/IS350.

That recall is still ongoing, and last month, Toyota expanded it by 1.09 million vehicles across five models: 2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Venza, 2009-2010 Matrix, and 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe, which is made by a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors Co.

The Avalon, Camry and Tundra models listed above — encompassing about 1.7 million vehicles — are covered by both recalls. Toyota says it intends to fix vehicles covered by both recalls in one visit.

Q: I still have questions. How can I get them answered?

A: Toyota Canada has directed customers to They can also call the Toyota Customer Experience Centre at 1-888-TOYOTA-8.

In addition, Consumer Reports has produced a detailed video on how to stop a runaway vehicle at

February 2, 2010

Rights groups push Laos on access to returned Hmong

Where is the Laotian government-in-exile? see

By Agence France-Presse, Updated: 2/1/2010

Rights groups push Laos on access to returned Hmong

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and 16 other rights groups on Monday urged Laos to give foreign observers access to thousands of ethnic Hmong expelled from Thailand.

Rights groups push Laos on access to returned Hmong

Rights groups push Laos on access to returned Hmong

In a letter to Lao President Choummaly Sayasone, the organisations expressed "serious concerns for the safety and protection" of the returned Hmong.


also called for immediate resettlement to third countries of all returned Hmong with a well-founded fear of persecution, including 158 sent back despite being recognised by the UN as refugees.

Bangkok sparked outrage in late December when it defied global criticism and used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps on the border with communist Laos.

"Given the difficulties faced by some prior Hmong returnees, we urge you to immediately allow unhindered and continuous access by UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations to all returnees to ensure that the treatment of the returnees is in accordance with international standards," said the letter, whose signatories included Sam Zarifi of London-based Amnesty and Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch, based in the United States.

Amnesty has alleged that other forcible repatriations of Hmong to Laos from Thailand since 2005 led to "enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention".


international access to the Hmong "would likely help assure the international community and the United Nations about your government’s stated intentions to respect their rights," the letter said.


government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing was not immediately available to comment.

He has said the international community has "nothing to worry about", and all of the Hmong have been returned to their original homes or resettled in new villages.

A diplomatic source said last week there had been no reports of mistreatment, although some returnees had complained about living conditions in the new villages.

US congressmen who visited Laos said they saw no sign the Hmong were ill-treated.

Thailand and Laos both say the Hmong, who feared persecution because they fought alongside US forces in the Vietnam War, were illegal economic immigrants.

February 2, 2010

For Obama on China, no more Mr Nice Guy?

Where is the Laotian Government-In-Exile? See

For Obama on China, no more Mr Nice Guy?

After a year of wooing China, President Barack Obama is showing a new side by brazenly defying the rising Asian power – while hoping that the rift will be temporary.

By Shaun Tandon, in Washington for AFP
Published: 9:35AM GMT 02 Feb 2010

On Friday the Obama administration signed off on a $6.4 billion (£4 billion) arms package for Taiwan. China, which claims the island, had repeatedly warned against the sale and retaliated by vowing to punish US companies.

Obama may butt heads with Beijing again in the coming weeks if he meets the Dalai Lama. The two nations also have a number of trade rows including Google’s threat to leave China over the hacking of political activists’ email accounts.

Officials and experts doubted that Obama was seeking to antagonise China. Rather, they said he had long planned to sell arms to Taiwan and meet the Dalai Lama but wanted first to develop a good rapport with Beijing.

Douglas H. Paal, a former top US policymaker on China and envoy to Taiwan, said that Obama had waited for the right time and saw an opportunity after Beijing balked in mid-January at backing tougher sanctions against Iran.

"It became clear that Beijing was not going to play on Iran and therefore there was nothing to hold up the arms sales anymore," said Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Obama opened his administration pledging to expand cooperation between the world’s largest developed and developing nations, apparently considering cooperation on issues from climate change to reviving the global economy to North Korea.

But after a trip in November to China which made no visible goodwill gestures to him, not freeing any dissidents or even broadcasting nationally his one public forum, the erpsident returned on the defensive.

A month earlier, Obama had avoided meeting the Dalai Lama when he was in Washington so as not to sour the president’s trip. China accuses the Dalai Lama of separatism, although the monk says he is seeking greater rights for Tibet under Chinese rule.

The White House indicated last year that Obama would meet the Dalai Lama at a later date. The Dalai Lama is due in the United States this month, starting with a public lecture on February 21 in Los Angeles.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said it would be impossible politically for Obama to avoid the Tibetan leader again.

"It’s the Chinese who are the real outliers here. They’re the only people in the world who have a negative impression of the Dalai Lama," Lohman said.

"The real problem here was giving an impression to the Chinese that there was some possibility that the US was going to listen to them on the Dalai Lama," he said, criticising Obama for being "excessively deferential" to China.

China was largely positive about the previous US president, George W. Bush. During his eight-year presidency, China’s exports and investments in the United States rose considerably; China now holds more than $800 billion (£50.2 billion) of the ballooning US debt.

While questioning the amount of leverage China has, Lohman said: "I think they know the perception is out there that they have this leverage and are the new boss in town, and so they’re playing off that."

But Nina Hachigian, a senior fellow at the Left-leaning Center for American Progress, dismissed suggestions that Obama had been weak on China, saying that the new administration had set out a path to work together on common interests.

"While it was not a reason for it, I do think the arms package should quell the ridiculous judgments that Obama was being too deferential to China," she said.

"I do think they’ve been successful, even though there is still a lot of distrust, in reassuring that we welcome a rising China and we don’t want to contain China," she said.

She said that the United States and China were in a "Bermuda triangle stage" of relations with Taiwan, Tibet and trade issues.

"That’s going to mean rough sailing in the relationship for a while, but the fact is we’re in this together," she said. "It’s in neither side’s interest for it to get derailed, so after a certain period it will get back on track."

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