November 25, 2009
After years of applying band aids to its Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem, Toyota will finally offer a vehicle-based remedy to fix SUA problems involving floor mats that can entrap the accelerator pedals in eight Toyota and Lexus models. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this morning that
Toyota plans to reconfigure the accelerator pedal on 3.8 million vehicles going back to the 2004 model year. Other fixes include modifying the floor area around the pedal and in some models, installing a brake-to-idle override that allows the driver to quickly stop a vehicle in an unintended acceleration incident and newly-designed replacement driver- and front-passenger side all-weather mats.
The recalled vehicles include:
NHTSA concluded last month – as it has in past Toyota SUA investigations – the blame lay with improperly attached floor mats that could hold down the accelerator pedal. In October, Toyota launched a floor mat recall campaign, urging Toyota and Lexus owners to immediately remove all floor mats from their vehicles, while the company promised to develop and deliver a more substantive remedy.
Get out the Saw, Hammer and Computer
Toyota’s fix, which is expected to start in January, will first cut the length of the accelerator pedals until replacement pedal assemblies become available several months later.
According to NHTSA, Toyota will also install a brake-to-idle algorithm on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES 350, IS 350 and IS 250 models as an “extra measure of confidence.” This design, found in other manufacturers’ vehicles with electronic throttle, including Audi, BMW and VW, will bring the engine to idle if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are applied. A significant number of motorists who experienced frightening SUA events reported that no amount of braking would stop the vehicle once it took off.
SRS President Sean Kane said Toyota’s long-awaited fixes are welcome, but the recall doesn’t include some of the well-known problem vehicles, such as the 2002 – 2006 Camry / Lexus ES which also have electronic throttle controls. Nor does Toyota’s recall include all models that the company claims have experienced floor mat interference unintended acceleration incidents.
“Do floor mats cause unintended acceleration in Toyotas, yes. But floor mats don’t explain many of the incidents. The good news from this recall is that regardless of the cause of unintended acceleration, the brake override remedy will likely bring a measure of control to drivers and prevent crashes” said Kane. “Brake overrides should be standard failsafe design on any vehicle with an electronic throttle.”
Russell and Laura Scotti, of Bucks County, PA are confident that the three SUA incidents they experienced in his 2009 Camry hybrid since the summer were not related to floor mats. The first time it occurred, the vehicle accelerated onto I-95 in New Jersey and continued to accelerate. Laura Scotti tried braking the Camry but the incident didn’t end until she heard an audible click and the acceleration stopped. At the time, the vehicle was equipped with after-market all-weather floor mats, but the mats, although unsecured by clips, had spikes underneath that kept them in place and the mat was not interfering.
The Scotti’s removed the accessory mats anyway and left the OE carpet mats clipped in place. One month later, the Camry experienced a second event. Again, as she accelerated onto the highway, the car kept going. This time, she applied both the brake and the emergency brake and was able to stop the Camry by pulling onto shoulder and turning off the key. The dealer claimed that the floor mat had caused the event, even though it was securely in place.
Scotti removed the carpet mats. Then, three weeks ago, Scotti experienced a third SUA incident. This time, the Camry hit about 70 or 80 mile per hour, before Scotti heard an audible “click,” and the vehicle returned to idle. Scotti returned to the dealer, and three days later, a Toyota representative examined the car – and found nothing.
Toyota has been under pressure to find a solution to the SUA problem after four people died in an SUA-related crash in Santee, California. The driver, Mark Saylor, was a California Highway Patrol Officer at the wheel of a 2009 Lexus loaner vehicle. The incident was captured in a 911 call that Saylor’s brother-in-law made just before the crash. NHTSA investigated the crash and concluded that unsecured floor mats caused the vehicle to runaway.
These new fixes may allow the driver to better control a runaway Toyota, and are important steps toward controlling the SUA problem. But Toyota’s latest recall does nothing for owners of problem models excluded from the recall.
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