The influential Consumer Reports (CR) organisation in the US is calling on Toyota to recall 2007-2011 Camry Hybrids to deal with reported brake problems rather than carrying out "service campaigns".

There are two problems. One is a clogged brake fluid reservoir, the other a faulty ABS actuator unit, Consumer Reports said, noting that Toyota’s action was prompted, at least in part, by many consumer complaints lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"Over the last several years, owners have complained of loss of braking performance, increased pedal effort, and other difficulties. The NHTSA opened an official inquiry in January, asking Toyota for its record of complaints and other data. The NHTSA cited 59 complaints of defective brakes.

"We've found... that the number of power-brake complaints for those two model years has risen to 269, with 14 crashes and five injuries."

Toyota has begun two free repair programmes for almost 178,000 cars. The company will begin notifying owners this month.

"Consumer Reports believes that Toyota should recall these cars. What’s at issue here is a series of acknowledged defects in a crucial safety system."

For the clogged reservoir issue, Toyota has started a service campaign to install a redesigned reservoir in affected vehicles anytime between now and 30 June, 2017. Even owners who haven’t experienced the problem will be able to get the new part installed free. If they’ve already paid for it on their own, they can apply for reimbursement, CR said.

However, CR noted the the faulty actuator problem is covered by a warranty extension which stretches out the warranty period beyond the standard three years or 36 months to, ultimately, 10 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first.

"That’s a good thing, because an ABS actuator for Camry Hybrids of this vintage costs at least US$1,000 at retail and dealers may charge a total of more than $3,000 to replace it," CR said.

The warranty extension is only offered to owners who experience the problem. But people who have already paid out of pocket for a new actuator or brake pedal stroke sensor may be eligible for reimbursement.

While NHTSA’s information request concerned only 2007 and 2008 Camry Hybrids, Toyota’s eventual response - the service campaign and the warranty extension - broadened the scope to include all years from 2007 through 2011, and it will apply to an estimated 177,500 vehicles.

"We think Toyota’s proper action would be a recall," CR said. "Greatly diminished brake function is a serious safety concern. A recall is more comprehensive and widely published than a mere service campaign, and owners don’t have to wait for a problem to happen before qualifying for the repair. Besides that, unlike extended warranties, recalls don’t expire and are performed proactively."

Toyota spokesman John Hanson told Reuters in an email statement that the automaker was working with the safety regulators at NHTSA on a probe related to the issue.

"We believe our actions to address this issue are appropriate, and we are continuing to cooperate with NHTSA in its investigation," he said.

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