Another Attack of the Killer Floor Mats: Sarasota Edition

Dear Toyota:

Why did you buy back Tim Scott’s 2007 Lexus RX? We mean, really? You gave him a bunch of different reasons, but he doesn’t believe you. (We’re finding it a little hard to swallow, too.)

Awaiting your reply,

SRS

Here’s Tim Scott’s story. In early December, as NHTSA and NASA were putting the finishing touches on their reports saying that there is nothing wrong with Toyota’s electronics or software, Scott experienced an unintended acceleration event in his 2007 Lexus RX350, on his way home from the gym. Here’s the narrative that Scott, 46, the chief financial officer for the International Union of Police Associations, wrote:

“At approx. 8:05 am on Thursday, December 2nd I was stopped behind a school bus that was picking up children at the intersection of Sarasota Square Blvd and Crockers Lake Blvd in Sarasota, FL. After the bus cleared the intersection (1-2 min wait) I gave the car enough gas to make the right hand turn onto Crockers Lake Blvd. which is only approx. 150-200 ft in length. I estimate the speed was between 10-15 mph when I began braking to make the left hand turn into the Citation Club Apartments when I noticed the vehicle was not slowing. I pressed the brake pedal harder and the car continued to pull against the brakes. As I approached the end of Crockers Lake Blvd I had both feet on the brakes and the car was slowing, however the engine was "screaming" and the tachometer was approaching to "red-line". I managed to make the left hand turn and as the car slowed I shifted it into park to stop it. The engine was screaming so I turned the ignition to the off position. I attempted to restart the vehicle and it immediately red-lined again; I immediately turned the car off. At this time two employees of Citation Club approached me on the passenger side in a service golf cart and asked what was wrong. I indicated I didn't know but they should "hear this" at which time I started the car again and it again red-lined. I immediately turned the ignition off. One of the Citation Club employees told me they would push me out of the entrance area to prevent my vehicle from being struck should someone attempt to enter the complex. Once safely parked, I exited the vehicle and immediately checked to be sure the floor mats were still secured by the anchors; they were. I looked for any type of obstruction near the accelerator and found none.

The dealership, Wilde Lexus, however did find a problem – they found three different problems. Or, rather, one problem that changed three times. First, they told him that his vehicle was equipped with the wrong carpet mats. Then they told him that the floor mats were the right size, but that they were “bunched up” around the accelerator. Then they told him that the driver’s side floor mat appeared to dislodge a section of molding that obstructed the accelerator. So – wrong-size floor mats, bunched up floor mats, then dislodged molding. Are you with us?

About a week later, the dealership informed him that even though they had isolated the problem to a carpeted floor mat, Lexus was sending a team of engineers to examine the vehicle. When the engineers arrived, they called Scott to ask if the accelerator was 25-percent or 50-percent depressed. The accelerator was zero-percent depressed – Scott was braking at the time the UA occurred.

Back to the narrative: “Late in the afternoon of December 20th I received a call from Lexus (Corporate) stating that the engineers had determined they ‘didn't want to take any more chances with the vehicle on the road and that they wanted to purchase my vehicle back if I was interested.’ ”

Scott was interested – and stunned.

“I never anticipated hearing that out of the blue,” Scott told SRS. “It was supposedly a floor mat issue. I remember telling the service manager, ‘I find it hard to believe Toyota buys back cars because of a floor mat problem.’ ”

And today, the mystery deepened. Toyota announced more floor mat recalls and under-the-floor-mat and trim interference recalls!

First, Toyota added three more models to its earlier all-weather floor mat recalls (also see Toyota All-Weather Floor Mat Entrapment) to address the potential for unsecured or incompatible floor mat entrapment of the accelerator pedal: the 2003 through 2009 4Runner; 2008 through 2011 Lexus LX 570; and the 2010 RAV4.

Second, it announced a new safety recall of approximately 20,000 2006 and early 2007 Model Year GS 300 and GS 350 All-Wheel Drive vehicles to modify the shape of the plastic pad embedded in the driver’s side floor carpet, which apparently can be moved during a service operation, and interfere with the gas pedal.

Third, it announced a recall of 372,000 2004 through 2006 and early 2007 RX 330, RX 350, and RX 400h vehicles, and 397,000 2004 through 2006 Highlander and Highlander HV vehicles, to replace the driver’s side floor carpet cover and its two retention clips, because “if the forward retention Ilip used to secure the floor carpet cover, which is located in front of the center console, is not installed properly, the cover may lean toward the accelerator pedal and interfere with the accelerator pedal arm.”

And the freaky thing is – Toyota had already recalled the 2004-2005 and early 2006 Highlanders and 2004 – 2005 Lexus RX 330 and 2006 RX400h center console to replace the forward retention clip used to secure the floor carpet cover in front of the center console. In 2006 (06V253)!  The campaign warned: “The two Retaining Clips for the driver’s side forward Center Console (Floor Carpet Cover) can become loose. If both clips separate from the Floor Carpet Cover, the cover may lean toward the accelerator pedal, causing interference with the accelerator pedal rod. In the worst case, this condition may interfere with the accelerator pedal returning to the idle position and thus may increase the possibility of a crash.”

So is this a re-notification? The forward retention clip Toyota replaced five years ago is already breaking and they are worried about the rear clip, too? So many questions.

Now, Scott is no little old lady. He’s a strapping guy of 250 pounds who, as an RX owner, had been following all the Toyota news. The first thing he checked when he stopped his vehicle was the state of his carpet mats. They were secured, in place and nowhere near his accelerator.

“I don’t scare easy, but that scared the s—t out of me. If it had happened three minutes earlier, I would have plowed into the back of a school bus. I had all my weight on those brakes. The engine was screaming. And when I got the car to stop, I almost jumped out, because I thought it was going to explode,” he says “It’s a travesty what they are trying to do. The fact that there’s another massive round of recalls just underlines that there’s a problem. I don’t like that large corporations can get way with putting people’s lives in jeopardy.”

Obviously, Mr. Scott did not get the memo from Ray and his band of rocket scientists: all mechanical causes of unintended acceleration have already been identified and remedied. There are no electronic or software problems with Toyotas.

P.S. Toyota, we don’t know if truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction sure is more work to maintain.

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