Toyota Pedal Fix Dress Rehearsal

In early December 2005, Toyota learned of two early model Lexus IS250 with accelerator pedals “out of tolerance” – meaning the pedal could become stuck. One instance occurred during a dealer pre-delivery inspection and a second was reported by Toyota Canada during transportation at the port facility. The automaker had received no complaints in the U.S. or Canada.

Nonetheless, Toyota was on it like a shot:

“Toyota investigated the cause of the problem, and found that the accelerator pedal linkage and the floor carpet design were out of tolerance; creating insufficient clearance between the accelerator pedal and the vehicle carpet,” the automaker wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

By December 16, Toyota sent a Notice of Defect and Noncompliance to NHTSA and four days later, a notice was over-nighted to dealers instructing them to replace the acceleration pedal assembly with a revised one, and to modify the carpet.

The recall population was limited to 3,567 All-Wheel Drive models built between August 30 and December 2, 2005. According to Toyota’s first quarterly recall report in March 2006, all but 325 vehicles had been inspected and repaired.  (Oddly, the subsequent quarterly reports consistently showed abut 340 vehicles outstanding. Then, on the last report, the automaker suddenly rounded up the errant vehicles. Only eight remained unrepaired after June 2007. But we digress…)

At the time, the automaker had already dodged a couple of investigatory bullets. The agency had deep-sixed two defect petitions from Lexus ES300 owners in 2003 and 2004. No electronic problems, here folks. Everybody move along.

But this was not the first, nor the last time the agency would hear about sudden unintended acceleration in Lexus IS models. Since 2002 to the present, more than 20 Lexus IS owners complained of sudden acceleration events. The agency had fielded complaints from Lexus IS300 owners before the recall to modify the small subset of IS250 vehicles, who told stories like these:

“Since I have owned the vehicle, I have had two incidents, which both occurred randomly with no prior engine problems or indications of issues with the car, in which as I was accelerating, the gas pedal would continue to press down and pin itself to the floor. Both times, the gas pedal was literally stuck to the floor and not able to be loosened. The first time it occurred, I pulled the emergency brake and jammed on my brake pedal until the gas pedal popped back up after about a minute pinned to the ground. The second time, I luckily had someone with me who instructed me to put the car in neutral and quickly turn off the engine one click so that I could brake and steer myself to safety. Thank God no one was injured in these incidents, but both occurrences could have been horrible accidents.”

Of course, the Lexus IS300 wasn’t a part of the recall. But even after the recall, it continued to record complaints from Lexus IS owners about jammed accelerator pedals and incidents in which the driver insisted that the floor mat could not be blamed:

“I was driving my wife’s Lexus 2008 IS250 out of a parking lot when applying my foot on the brake the car accelerated. I now slammed my foot on the brakes and the car continued to accelerate. The only thing that stopped my car was the car in front of it with very little damage. If the car was not in front of me, I was accelerating faster into oncoming traffic. My floor mat is not on the floor, as after the San Diego incident that was Toyota’s reasoning. We were told roughly a month and half ago to take the mat out, which I did right away. They can deny it all they want. This car was accelerating and getting faster when applying the brake.”

What does the story of 2005 pedal remedy tells us?

One: Toyota has shown that it can quickly respond to its own discoveries about accelerator interference with a new pedal. Customer complaints? Not so much.

Two: Ensuring that accelerator pedals aren’t entrapped by floor mats doesn’t solve Toyota’s sudden unintended acceleration problem.

That doesn’t stop Toyota from singing the same old song: The We-Can’t-Explain it-But It-Ain’t-Electronic Blues.