Toyota: Floor Mats To Blame In Stuck-Accelerator Issue

November 2, 2009
Loose all-weather floor mat jams accelerator pedal. Photo: NHTSA

Loose all-weather floor mat jams accelerator pedal. Photo: NHTSA

Toyota says there's no evidence that the automaker's Toyota or Lexus vehicles have an unintended-acceleration issue. But improperly installed or wrong-size floor mats can interfere with the accelerator pedal and cause it to stick, the automaker admits.

Today Toyota started to mail letters to hundreds of thousands of owners regarding the floor mat issues, assuring them that "this defect does not exist in vehicles in which the driver side floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week denied a request for additional investigation into unintended-acceleration issues on 2007 Lexus ES350 and 2002-2003 Lexus ES300 models.

According to Toyota, this is the sixth time NHTSA has looked into unintended acceleration allegations on Toyota and Lexus vehicles, each time ruling out a vehicle-based cause.

“The question of unintended acceleration involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles has been repeatedly and thoroughly investigated by NHTSA, without any finding of defect other than the risk from an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat,” said Bob Daly, TMS senior vice president, in a press release from the company.

Last month the automaker released an interim solution involving zip-tie fasteners, making sure that mats would be held in the proper position.

2007 Lexus ES 350

2007 Lexus ES 350

Regarding the NHTSA's look at the 2007 Lexus ES, the agency announced the results of exhaustive testing of the vehicle's components, including its electronic throttle, commenting, "The system proved to have multiple redundancies and showed no vulnerabilities to electrical signal activities."

The Office of Defects Investigation has recorded a total of 50 complaints involving floor mat interference in 2007 Lexus ES 350, with some of these incidents leading to crashes.

This comes after the release of the report on the August crash of a 2009 Lexus ES 350, driven by an off-duty police officer, with three passengers aboard. The crash investigator and interviewer attributed the lack of an emergency instantaneous shut-off device as a significant factor in the accident. The report points out that there was no quick ignition-key disconnect, and the push-button start/stop button required a three-second delay. "The instruction is not indicated on the dashboard," commented the investigator, Bill Collins. The report also cited Toyota's use of a rigid, one-piece accelerator lever. "Beyond the main pivot, the lever is not hinged and has no means for relieving forces caused by interferences," he added. However very few automakers today offer the hinged accelerator designs that used to be more common.

Last month, Consumer Reports found that models that don't have so-called smart-throttle technology, which allows the brake to take precedence over the throttle, a vehicle might not have adequate brakes to overcome a stuck throttle at 60 mph.

Toyota will mail a notice of future voluntary recall for the issue to owners of:

2007-2010 Toyota Camry
2005-2010 Toyota Avalon
2004-2009 Toyota Prius
2005-2010 Toyota Tacoma
2007-2010 Toyota Tundra
2007-2010 Lexus ES 350
2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and Lexus IS 350

Toyota's diagram showing how to properly install floor mats

Toyota's diagram showing how to properly install floor mats

In all, approximately 3.8 million vehicles could be affected. In the meantime, Toyota asks that owners of these vehicles take out any driver's floor mat and not replace it with any other mat. The letter advises owners that if they are to leave mats in the car, they should make sure they have the right-sized floor mat and that it's properly installed.

Follow to the next page to read Toyota's advice on what drivers should do if they encounter the issue:

In the letters, Toyota also reminds owners of the following:

  • Apply the brakes firmly and steadily. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as it will increase braking effort
  • Shift the gear selector to Neutral (N) and pull over to the side of the road, then turn off the engine.
  • If the vehicle can't be shifted to Neutral, turn the engine off, or to the ACC key-ignition position. The automaker cautions that steering and braking assist will be lost but it won't cause loss of steering or braking control.
  • And if the vehicle has an Engine Start/Stop button instead, "firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine." Toyota cautions, "Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop Button."
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