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Toyota problems: What consumer complaints tell us about the 2010 Toyota Prius recall

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Sam Yeh/AFP/Newscom

(Read caption) A Toyota technician checks a recalled Prius Hybrid car at a factory in Taipei on Feb. 9. Toyota Motor announced a Toyota Prius recall of 2010 models in Europe, Asia, and North America. Toyota has been plagued by a series of safety issues spanning form brakes, accelerator pedals, and floor mats.

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Where there was once smoke emanating from Toyota consumers, there is now fire.

In the week it took for 2010 Toyota Prius recall rumors to become reality, driver complaints about the 2010 Prius exploded from 171 on Feb. 3 to 1,381 on Tuesday.

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Of those complaints, 40 resulted in crashes, causing six injuries and no fatalities.

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Many are straightforward descriptions of the problem Toyota now calls a software malfunction: When a Prius tries to brake on a bumpy, slick, or otherwise rough surface, the car's skid control can engage and prevent the car from slowing. However, more than a few consumers complained that Toyota didn't appear to be taking their concerns seriously.

On one level, they're upset with Toyota's overall handling of the recall situation.

"I feel very unsafe," wrote one woman. "I drive my children to school everyday and feel that Toyota does not seem to care if the Prius breaks [sic] functions properly.

On another level, they're furious with their dealers for what they feel like has been general stonewalling. After experiencing repeated braking issues, a driver who gave his name as David Mann wrote to his dealership after he was told there were no problems with his Prius.

"I am concerned that the service department did not at least offering [sic] to help look into my braking issues when I verbally reported it during service. Instead, I was assured it was normal for anti-lock brakes and my clear statement that it was something I had never encountered before, despite owning anti-lock equipped cars for the past 19 years, was dismissed," he writes.

To be sure, some of the complaints were generated because of the hullabaloo surrounding the recalls.

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One driver hit a deer on an Alabama highway on a clear October morning.

"We never thought it might be an issue with the car," the driver's complaint reads. "But now with so much of [sic] scrutiny going on with this new Prius, we do want to bring to the attention of your organization that from day 1 of purchasing the car the brakes are really funky."

Some of the comments reveal consumers jolted back to murky memories of roads that may (or may not) have been potholed on occasions where it may (or may not) have been raining and their car may (or may not) have accelerated.

The 1,381 complaints do not all represent individual instances, however, as drivers can file complaints under a variety of braking issues as well as more general problems like "speed control" or "other."

The final announcement of a recall, however, may perhaps provide some direction for customers who to this point have found few answers from the world's largest automaker.

"This is a dangerous situation," wrote one driver. "I feel I cannot drive my car safely. I need my car for work. I phoned my Toyota dealer who said to bring it in for evaluation, but they sound tentative. I want a solution and don't want to be making numerous trips from my rural town to the city dealer for guesses."