Toyota dealers can use existing tools for pedal fix
Spelling out fixes today for a planned recall announced in late September, Toyota said it would reconfigure the shape of accelerator pedals to reduce the risk that they may be jammed in the floor mat and cause unintended acceleration. In addition, Toyota will replace both first- and second-generation original-equipment floor mats with a pair of redesigned mats on the seven affected vehicle lines.
Reshaping the pedals is a temporary fix until replacement pedals become available -- roughly in April, although exact timing will vary by vehicle model, Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said. Customers who initially have their pedals reshaped will then have the option of having them replaced.
Dealers will receive a template, or “jig,” next month, along with instructions for fixing the pedals, Michels said. Customers will start getting letters at the end of the year, and dealerships will begin work in January.
The job involves removing the one-piece pedal assembly and cutting 20 millimeters, or three-fourths of an inch, off the bottom of the pedal's face, Michels said. The width will also receive a small adjustment.
“That's a simple matter,” Michels said. “It doesn't affect any of the pedal assembly.”
The job shouldn't take much time and shouldn't require dealers to get new tools, he said.
Toyota does not have an estimate of the total cost of the recall, including paying dealerships for labor, Michels said.
The model years and vehicles involved are the 2004-2009 Prius; the 2005 to 2010 Avalon and Tacoma; the 2007-2010 Camry, Tundra and Lexus ES 350; and the 2006 to 2010 Lexus IS 250 /IS 350.
As part of the action, Toyota will install a brake override system on the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS 350 and IS 250 models “as an extra measure of confidence.” The system will shut off engine power if drivers press the accelerator pedal and brake pedal simultaneously.
The automaker said it will send first-class letters to owners of the Camry, ES 350, and Avalon by the end of the year. Owners of the five other models will be notified throughout 2010.
Plan looks good
A former Toyota engineer who is now with automotive analysis firm Edmunds.com said in a statement today that the solutions from the recall should work.
“Our tests have confirmed that an out of position floor mat can cause the throttle to stick because of the shape and geometry of the current gas pedal,” wrote Dan Edmunds. He served as senior chassis development engineer for Toyota's Technical Center before joining Edmunds.com in April 2006 as director of automotive testing.
“Temporarily shortening and replacing the accelerator pedals are viable solutions to alleviate the problem,” Edmunds wrote.
Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, announced plans for the recall in late September, citing the risk that a loose floor mat could force down the accelerator, a problem suspected of causing crashes that killed five people. The recall is only in the United States. No investigations into unintended accelerations in Toyota vehicles are underway in Europe, Japan or China, Michels said today.
Toyota has said it has confidence the problem is linked to floor mats and not a vehicle design flaw or problems related to braking, fuel or accelerator systems.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said discussions included “several vehicle-based” factors that may contribute to pedal interference and a driver's ability to control and stop the car when the accelerator gets stuck.
Toyota vs. NHTSA
Earlier this month, Toyota Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo denied allegations the automaker tried to sidestep engineering or design defects that led to the recall.
His comments came a day after NHTSA rebuked Toyota for issuing “inaccurate and misleading information” about the safety recall, which advised drivers to remove floor mats that may potentially jam underneath the gas pedal and cause unintended acceleration.
A Toyota statement days earlier said NHTSA found “no defect exists in vehicles with properly installed floor mats.” In fact, NHTSA had said Toyota vehicles have a “very serious defect.”
The accelerator and floor design of the vehicles create “the potential for entrapment of the accelerator by floor mats,” said a statement by NHTSA. It said removing the floor mats is only an interim solution that does not correct the underlying defect.
Funo said Toyota had “no disagreement on this issue.”
In early November, ABC News broadcast interviews with a number of Toyota drivers who said their vehicles suddenly accelerated out of control even though their foot depressed the brake and not the gas pedal. ABC cited reports of 16 acceleration-related deaths and more than 200 accidents.
The floor mat recall was prompted by an Aug. 28 accident involving a runaway Lexus ES 350 in San Diego that killed four people.
Toyota in late October said it would begin sending letters to owners urging them to remove the floor mats from their cars while the company considers what to do to curb unintended acceleration problems.
Hans Greimel, Philip Nussel and Reuters contributed to this report.