Toyota and NHTSA Issue Urgent Safety Alert to Remove Floor Mats: Will it Stop Sudden Acceleration?

Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have issued urgent consumer safety alerts to owners of a wide range of Toyota and Lexus models to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and NOT replace it with any other floor mat.

“Recent events have prompted Toyota to take a closer look at the potential for an accelerator pedal to get stuck in the full open position due to an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat,” Toyota said in a press release.

The advisory follows an August 28 crash in Santee, California that killed four. California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor was at the wheel of a 2009 Lexus ES350, when the vehicle apparently suffered an sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) event. Some investigators suspect that the floor mat may have entrapped the pedal.

The affected models are:

  • 2007 – 2010 Camry
  • 2005 – 2010 Avalon
  • 2004 – 2009 Prius
  • 2005 – 2010 Tacoma
  • 2007 – 2010 Tundra
  • 2007 – 2010 ES350
  • 2006 – 2010 IS250 and IS350

“Have all-weather floor mats caused unintended acceleration in some Toyota and Lexus models?  Probably.  But is it the only cause in these vehicles?  I don’t think so” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies.  “Reviewing complaint data, interviewing owners, and examining evidence from SUA incidents leads us to conclude there is more going on here.  This not likely the last we’ve heard of Toyota and Lexus sudden acceleration.”

Lexus owner Marianna Eisner of Lake Oswego is convinced that the all-weather floor mat in her 2007 ES350 had nothing to do with the harrowing crash she experienced in August.  Eisner, who purchased the vehicle new, was aware of the potential floor mat interference from the 2007 recall Toyota issued alerting 2007 and 2008 Lexus ES350 and Toyota Camry owners that improperly secured all-weather floor mats could interfere with the accelerator pedal (07E082).  Toyota’s recall warned:

“If the optional Toyota Camry All Weather Floor Mat (either by itself or if it is placed on top of an existing carpeted floor mat) is not secured by the retaining hooks (clips), the mat can move forward and interfere with the accelerator pedal returning to the idle position. If the mat is properly secured, it will not interfere with the accelerator pedal.”

“I was on the freeway driving at a steady speed when the vehicle began to accelerate on its own.  If it were a mat issue, how did it get caught without depressing the accelerator pedal?” Marianna Eisner said.  Eisner couldn’t stop the vehicle but was able to slow it down by exiting onto an uphill off-ramp and standing on both the emergency and service brakes before slamming into the back of pickup truck.  Following the crash Eisner found the all-weather floor mat still secured in place.

In other Toyota SUA incidents all-weather floor mats were not used and no evidence of carpeted floor mat interference was found.

Toyota’s 2007 recall came on the heels of NHTSA investigations into unintended acceleration in Lexus ES350s (PE07-016 and EA 07-010).

In April, the owner of a 2007 Lexus requested that NHTSA launch an additional investigation into unintended acceleration in 2007 Lexus ES350 vehicles claiming that the agency’s initial investigation was too narrow in scope and did not adequately address all complaints related to vehicle speed control concerns.  The petitioner also requested an investigation into 2002-2003 Lexus ES300 for “longer duration incidents involving uncontrollable acceleration where brake pedal application allegedly had no effect.”

The agency has not yet decided if it would grant the request.

Lexus owners have been asking NHTSA to investigate SUA in the Toyota’s marquee brand since 2003. Owners of other Toyota models have requested similar investigations. Drivers have reported vehicle surging forward or backward in a variety of driving situations.  In some cases, the drivers were able to bring the vehicle to a stop. In others, the surging stopped on its own. At least seven people have died in SUA events involving Toyotas since 2007.

The problem appears to increase beginning in the 2002 Camry, when the automaker installed a new electronic throttle control (ETC) as one of several new or revised vehicle systems for the redesigned Camry. Since then, problems have been reported in Camrys, Camry Solaras; Lexus ES 300 and ES 330s, Sienna, Tacoma and RAV4 vehicles, covering models years from 2002 and later.

NHTSA has launched eleven investigations. Some closed almost as soon as they were opened. Two have reached the most serious level – an Engineering Analysis.

In addition to the 2007 Lexus floor mat recall, Toyota initiated a “safety improvement campaign” (a recall) of 2004 Sienna minivans following 2008 NHTSA investigation for floor carpet interference with the accelerator pedal.  In the January 14, 2009 campaign (09V-023), Toyota notified the agency that they would recall subject vehicles built between January 10, 2003 and June 11, 2003 and instructed dealers to replace the original floor carpet cover with the newer design floor carpet (and retention clip). The repair was intended to reduce the potential for trim panel interference with the accelerator pedal travel.

What can Toyota and Lexus owners do?

Follow Toyota’s advisory and immediately remove any driver floor mat.

Owners of earlier models, particularly from 2002 and later, although not covered by the advisory, should also consider removing the driver’s floor mat.

Report any incidents to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Safety Research & Strategies.

Toyota’s advice to owners who do experience sudden acceleration:

“- If it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat as it may dislodge the All Weather Floor Mat from the accelerator pedal.

– If you need to stop the vehicle immediately, firmly step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do not pump the brake pedal as it will deplete the vacuum utilized for the power brake assist.

– In the Toyota Camry equipped with the Engine Start/Stop button, if you can safely stop the vehicle, firmly hold down the Engine Start/Stop button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do not tap the Engine Start/Stop button. However, by turning off the engine, you will lose both power brake assist and power steering assist.

– In a traditional key ignition Toyota Camry, if you can safely stop the vehicle, turn the ignition key to the ACC position. Again, by turning the key to the ACC position, you will lose both power brake assist and power steering. Do not remove the key from the ignition. If you remove the key from the ignition, the steering wheel will lock.”

SRS is actively investigating Sudden Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas across a wide array of models and model years. If you’ve experienced an SUA incident, we’d like to hear about it. Contact SRS

More on SUA:

Fatal California Crash Highlights Toyota’s Sudden Unintended Acceleration Problem (The Safety Record Blog, Sept. 18, 2009)

Sudden Unintended Acceleration Redux: The Unresolved Issue (The Safety Record, Vol. 6 I3, June – July 2009)

Inspection Order by Toyota Linked to Santee Crash (San Diego Union Tribune, Sept. 15, 2009)