Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will take precautions and replace accelerator pedals on about 4 million recalled vehicles in the United States because the pedals could get stuck in the floor mats.
As a temporary step, Toyota will have dealers shorten the length of the gas pedals beginning in January while the company develops replacement pedals for their vehicles, the Transportation Department and Toyota said. New pedals will be available beginning in April, and some vehicles will have brake override systems installed as a precaution.”The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified,” Toyota said in a statement.
The recall includes 3.8 million vehicles, including the 2007-10 model year Camry, 2005-10 Toyota Avalon, 2004-09 Prius, 2005-10 Toyota Tacoma, 2007-10 Toyota Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and 2006-10 Lexus IS250/350. Toyota officials said about 4 million vehicles would be covered, including new cars and trucks sold since September and others manufactured since the recall was announced.
Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said company investigators found pedal entrapment to be the major issue and the company is “very, very confident that we have addressed this issue.” Miller said Toyota has found “no reason to believe that there is a problem with the electronic control systems.”
The recall involving the accelerators was Toyota’s largest in the U.S. It was prompted by a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family near San Diego. The Lexus hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, struck a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
Investigators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that an aftermarket rubber all-weather floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, and could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal. It is also very probable that the driver was unfamiliar with the start/stop button technology and did not know how to shut the engine off.
In Japan, Toyota President Akio Toyoda called the fatal crash “extremely regrettable” and offered his “deepest condolences” to the California family.
To fix the problem, Toyota and the government said dealers will shorten the length of the accelerator pedal on the recalled vehicles and in some cases remove foam from beneath the carpeting near the pedal to increase the space between the pedal and the floor. They said owners of the ES350, Camry and Avalon would be the first to receive notification because the vehicles are believed to have the highest risk for pedal entrapment.
Toyota plans to install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES350, IS350 and IS250 models as an “extra measure of confidence,” Toyota and NHTSA said. The brake override system, commonly called a “smart brake,” will ensure the vehicle will stop if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously.
Toyota also plans to make the brake override system standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus lineup starting with January 2010 production of the ES350 and Camry. Most new models will get the equipment by the end of 2010.
Dealers will be instructed on how to modify the pedals before the end of the year and will begin shortening the accelerators in 2010. New replacement pedals are expected to be available for some models beginning in April and will be provided even if the vehicles have already received a modified pedal under the recall.
If a vehicle accelerator pedal becomes stuck and a driver can’t dislodge it, Toyota advises drivers to press on the brake with both feet and then shift the vehicle into neutral, which will disengage the transmission. The automaker says drivers should continue braking until the vehicle comes to a stop.
A driver can also try shutting off the engine or turning the key to the “ACC” position on the ignition. Drivers will not lose control of the steering or the brakes. But once the vehicle is turned off the driver won’t have the benefit of power brakes or power steering. For vehicles that have a start/stop button for the engine, drivers are advised to hold the button for three seconds to turn it off.
For more information, owners can contact Toyota at 800-331-4331 or the NHTSA hot line at 888-327-4236.