Lexus GX 460 - A fixed problem, no injuries; an auto safety ideal

Consumer Reports News: May 10, 2010 09:26 AM

All too often, it takes a disaster to make things happen. Too many auto safety problems aren't discovered and addressed until there have been injuries, or even fatalities, to generate awareness.

In contrast, the story that we've seen rapidly unfold around the Lexus GX 460, for which we lifted our "Don't Buy" designation on Friday, reflects our auto safety system at its best.

Whether it's Consumer Reports or another organization, the ideal scenario is to uncover a safety problem before someone has been injured. And then have an automaker respond quickly and effectively to correct the problem.

That's what happened with the GX 460. The problem with the vehicle's emergency handling capabilities was discovered by our auto engineers during routine testing. Within a week of Toyota being notified, its Lexus division had stopped the sale of the vehicle. And a couple of days later, it had duplicated the problem, identified a gap in the programming of its electronic stability control system, and was working on a software fix.

That fix is now available at all Lexus dealers, and GX 460 owners can have their vehicles repaired. Meanwhile, the fix is also being applied to new GX's coming out of the assembly plant in Japan. And we have still not heard of any reports of injuries related to this problem. (We hope that owners have their vehicles repaired promptly, so this remains the case.)

Toyota has had issues in the past in addressing safety problems in a timely way, as is reflected by its recent $16.4 million fine by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a delay in reporting its problem with sticky accelerator pedals on eight Toyota models. But in this case, the company acted rapidly to address the GX issue and provided a model for other companies to follow. The time between when we first notified them about the problem until our vehicle had the software update and we were able to retest the GX was less than a month. And that kind of responsiveness often gets rewarded in the marketplace.

Of course, not all fixes are as straightforward as a software upgrade. Or can be discovered during routine testing, as we saw with the recent unintended acceleration problems. (See our special section on unintended acceleration.)

But uncovering a problem early and acting on it quickly remains the goal. And in addition to testing, more resources for NHTSA and closer monitoring and more thorough analysis of auto complaints in government databases—as we recommended in our recent auto-safety recommendations—are some of the ways that this can be realized.

Rik Paul

Lexus resumes sale of 2010 GX 460
Recall: Lexus to update 2010 GX 460 stability control software
Fix for Lexus GX 460 expected "shortly"
Toyota tests more SUVs to assess safety risk, suspends GX sales overseas
Q&A: Consumer Reports on the Lexus GX 460 test
Toyota stops sale of 2010 Lexus GX 460 after Consumer Reports safety alert
Don't Buy: Safety Risk--2010 Lexus GX 460

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