Roll out the Recalls!

The 2008-2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid becomes the latest vehicle to be added to Toyota’s growing roster of makes and models to receive a new, trimmer accelerator pedal to avoid floor mat interference. Yesterday, Toyota sent a communication to its dealers announcing Phase 4 of “Safety Recall 90L on 2008 through certain 2010 Highlander Hybrid vehicles for potential floor mat interference with the accelerator pedal. All Highlander Hybrid vehicles are equipped with a Denso pedal. The same templates and gauges provided to dealers for the Camry (Phase 1) will be utilized.”

To recap, Toyota has two different recalls going – one for floor mat interference and one for sticky accelerator pedals. The former involves modifying the rigid plastic accelerator pedal and replacing the optional genuine Toyota All Weather Floor Mats with newly designed mats. Some models were also getting a brake-to-idle override feature – but not the Highlander Hybrid, because, Toyota says, it “contains a fuel supply cut feature for Hybrid motor protection that will cut engine power in case of simultaneous application of both accelerator and brake pedals at certain speeds and driving conditions.”

According to yesterday’s communication, still to receive the modified pedal and new floor mats are:

2009 - 2010 Corolla,

2008 - 2010 Highlander (Non-Hybrid)

2009 - 2010 Matrix

2004 – 2009 Prius

2005 – 2010 Tacoma

2007 – 2010 Tundra

2009 - 2010 Venza

We’re losing count. Could we see a recall with a Phase 11? If it takes Toyota this many phases to correct something as simple as a new pedal and a couple of mats, imagine how many recall phases they’ll be when Toyota finally figures out how to really fix its SUA-plagued vehicles.

For example, Paul McClean of Laguna Beach, CA described to SRS a harrowing ride in his 2008 Highlander Hybrid that seemed to defy the floor mat interference theory. On Sept. 11, McClean and his wife were driving on Highway 395 in the Mojave Desert for a weekend camping trip, when he overtook another car at approximately 75miles per hour. As he returned to the lane, he attempted to depress the brake, but the hybrid continued to accelerate. At each attempt to decelerate, the engine whined alarmingly but the car continued to accelerate. He tried several times to press and release the accelerator followed by returning his foot to the brake, but the vehicle continued to accelerate, unhindered. At 95 mph. he applied both the brake pedal and the emergency brake at the same time forcing the car to slow down, all the while the engine continued to rev up. As it slowed, his wife pushed the gear shift into park and they bounced and shuddered to a halt.

The McCleans resumed their trip, and over the weekend they noticed all manner of bizarre behavior in their Highlander. Paul noted that the brakes were not working properly -- although still functional. The vehicle took longer to stop and there was a grinding sound and shuddering very time they tried to slow down. Once, they attempted to turn off the car, the dashboard and control panel lights went haywire and a warning flashed up that the brakes were not functioning and the vehicle needed immediate repair. The messages did not reappear when Paul re-started the car a few hours later. By the time they were ready to return home, the vehicle could not be started without the aid of jumper cables. The brakes were still grinding and shuddering all the way home.

The dealer, Tustin Toyota, inspected the vehicle and claimed that that it had identified the problem: errant floor mats that had entrapped the pedal and the brakes were just fine.

Paul McClean reluctantly picked up his car. The next day Saskia McClean was driving their kids to school in the Highlander, when the lights on the dashboard and control panel went haywire again and the brakes resumed grinding. Then the McCleans heard about the Santee crash that killed the Saylor family.

“We could no longer contemplate using this vehicle to transport our family considering the fate of those poor people and that the same thing would have happened to us if we had been in a built up area and not on an empty desert highway,” Paul McClean said. “That afternoon I drove the car down the hill from where we live to the dealer. Along the way I noticed the same problems with the brakes, the lack of responsiveness and the grinding noise. At the dealer’s we told the Service Director and the Service Manager that we no longer wanted the car, that we did not consider it a safe vehicle for our family, no matter what their computers were telling them in the service department. My wife was visibly distraught at the dealership but the attitude of the Director and Manager was completely unsympathetic and rude, but that is another story.”

The McCleans looked into going after Toyota under California’s Lemon law, but decided that it was too difficult. They traded in their Highlander for a Yukon.

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