DETROIT (AP) — Toyota isn’t telling owners of 1.9 million recalled RAV4 SUVs to park them outdoors even though U.S. safety investigators have four complaints about engine fires that can start with the vehicles' ignitions turned off.
The recall, announced Wednesday by the company, came as the regulators were investigating engine fires caused by replacement battery problems in RAV4s, the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. that isn't a pickup truck.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in documents detailing the probe that it received nine reports that the 12-volt batteries may have caused fires, loss of electrical power or engine stalling. In addition, the agency has eight reports of fires that started on the driver's side of the engine compartment where the battery is located.
Four reports said “thermal events” happened with the ignition off, indicating that it may be wise for owners to park the SUVs outdoors until they can be repaired.
But Toyota spokesman Aaron Fowles said the company is not advising people to park the RAV4s outdoors. It is asking those who haven't had their vehicles inspected to take them to a dealer soon so technicians can make sure replacement batteries were installed properly and the holding clamps are tight. They should also get the recall repairs done when they're available, he said.
The company issued a consumer advisory in 2021 for owners to take their SUVs to a dealer for inspection at no cost, he said.
Messages were left Friday seeking comment from NHTSA about whether owners should park the recalled RAV4s outdoors.
On Wednesday, Toyota said it's recalling about 1.9 million RAV4s in the U.S. because the batteries can move during forceful turns. That can cause the positive pole to touch a clamp, causing an electrical short.
The recall covers certain RAV4s from the 2013 through 2018 model years. Toyota said that some replacement batteries used in the SUVs have smaller top dimensions than other batteries. If the hold-down clamp is not tightened properly, the battery could move during hard cornering, allowing the positive terminal to contact the clamp and short circuit.
Documents posted Friday by the safety agency say that Toyota has found 22 "field technical reports" in the U.S.
The company didn't directly answer a question about whether the 22 reports involved fires. It said the field reports are from Toyota staff “which documented the inspection of owner allegations that relate or may relate to the condition for which the recall is being undertaken.”
Toyota said it is still preparing a fix. When the remedy is ready, dealers will replace the hold-down clamp, battery tray and positive terminal cover with improved ones. The company said it will notify owners by late December.
Owners can check to see if their RAV4s are involved by going to www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and entering their vehicle identification number.
NHTSA opened its investigation in February of 2021 after getting 11 complaints about thermal events, which can include fires, melting or smoke. “A majority of thermal events occurred during driving conditions, with four taking place with the ignition off,” the agency said in a document that opened the probe.
It said that drivers experienced stalling before any thermal event in half the cases where the RAV4s were in motion. “The 12-volt battery was identified as the area of origin in a majority of the incidents reviewed,” the agency wrote.
In an April 6, 2021, letter seeking information from Toyota, the agency revealed that the number of complaints had risen to 17.