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Toyota to recall 3.8 million cars over floor mats

Hooked: The hook-and-eye fastening system of the US Toyota models subject to a 3.8-million vehicle recall.

Fatal crash prompts biggest car recall in US history over floor-mat snag issue

30 Sep 2009

TOYOTA plans to recall up to 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus cars in the US – one of the biggest recalls in American history – to fix accessory floor mats that might dislodge and snag the accelerator pedal, potentially causing dangerous high-speed acceleration.

The company has asked owners of Toyota Camrys, Avalons and other popular models dating as far back as 2004 to remove the driver-side mats immediately pending an official fix.

However, Toyota Australia Mike Breen told GoAuto today that there was no such issue with Toyota cars in Australia.

“They (Toyota US) have a total way of fixing their mats over there,” he said. “There is no situation here.”

The US recall move was prompted by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warning because of continued reports of vehicles accelerating rapidly after drivers released the accelerator.

The final trigger was the deaths of four people – a California state trooper and his family – in a crash involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 in San Diego on August 28.

The recall is a massive blow to Toyota, which prides itself on its attention to detail in safety matters.

 center imageLeft: A Toyota-branded floor mat shown on the accessory section of Toyota Australia's web site, with hook-type fasteners.

The term ‘unintended acceleration’ is a term to be feared in the litigation-prone US where companies such as Audi have been set back years by such lawsuits and accompanying bad publicity.

In a statement released in the US, Toyota said “recent events” had prompted the company to take a closer look at the potential for an accelerator pedal to “get stuck in the full-open position due to an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat”.

“A stuck open accelerator pedal may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop the vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death,” the statement said.

The Toyota vehicles involved are 2007-2010 Camry 2005-2010 Avalon 2004-2009 Prius 2005-2010 Tacoma and 2007-2010 Tundra. Lexus models are 2007-2010 ES350 and 2006-2010 IS250 and IS350s.

Toyota is planning to come up with a replacement for the hook system that it currently uses on the official accessory mats.

The question remains whether other manufacturers who use similar systems might also get caught in the crossfire and have to recall their vehicles too.

In a statement on its public web site in the US, Toyota gives instructions on what to do if the struck-throttle situation arises.

“First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal, then pull over and stop the vehicle.

“If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do not pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.

“Shift the transmission gear selector into neutral position, and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.”

Toyota warns drivers not to remove the key after turning the ignition off when the car is still moving, as the steering wheel will become locked.

In cars with a start button, such as Lexus models and the hybrid Prius, Toyota recommends pushing the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine.

The problem mats are fixed to the floor by two hook-and-eye devices. The hooks are fixed to the floor at the seat end of the mat which is then hooked over them using two eyelets in the mat.

However, dragging the mat backwards with the feet raises the possibility of the floor mat becoming unhooked, allowing it to be pushed forward and interfering with the pedals.

A photo of a generic Toyota-branded mat shown in the accessory section of Toyota's web site appears to show a hook fastening system.

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