Toyota Floor Mats
Steve Helber  /  AP
Toyota will replace accelerator pedals on 3.8 million recalled vehicles in the United States, including the popular Camry model, to address problems with the pedals becoming jammed in the floor mat.
updated 11/25/2009 7:10:46 PM ET 2009-11-26T00:10:46

Toyota plans to replace the gas pedals on 4 million vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats and cause sudden acceleration, a flaw that led to the sixth-largest recall ever in the U.S.

The repairs are a critical step to restoring the reputation of the world’s biggest automaker, which suffered a blow when the recall was announced in September after years of making safe, reliable cars and trucks.

In plans outlined Wednesday, dealers will offer to shorten the length of the gas pedals by three-fourths of an inch beginning in January as a stopgap measure while the company develops replacement pedals. New pedals will be installed by dealers on a rolling basis beginning in April, and some vehicles will get a brake override system as a precaution.

The massive recall is the largest in the U.S. for Toyota Motor Corp. The Japanese automaker had earlier told owners to remove the driver’s side floor mats to keep the gas pedal from becoming jammed.

Popular vehicles such as the midsize Camry, the top-selling car in America, and the Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are among those to be fixed. The recall also includes the luxury Lexus ES350, the vehicle involved a fiery fatal accident in California that focused public attention on the danger.

Spokesman Irv Miller said Toyota is “very, very confident that we have addressed this issue.” Toyota has no reason to believe that there are problems with the cars’ electronic control systems, he said. An electronic-control malfunction also could cause unintended acceleration.

Toyota officials said the floor mats are only sold in the U.S., and the recall would be limited to North America.

Toyota would not say how much the repairs would cost, but analysts expected them to be extremely expensive because of the work involved and the manufacturing of new pedals. Toyota also said it would provide newly designed replacement floor mats.

Toyota developed a sterling reliability reputation but faced challenges as it rapidly expanded. While recalls do not always indicate poor reliability, Toyota executives are concerned about large numbers of recalls and have pushed for improved quality controls.

In a separate action, Toyota announced Tuesday the recall of 110,000 Tundra trucks from the 2000-03 model years to address excessive frame rust.

“Their reputation has taken a hit because the actual quality has taken a hit,” said Aaron Bragman, an automotive analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight. “That’s absolutely critical for Toyota to get that fixed because that’s the central pillar that they’ve built their business on.”

Bartender Fitzroy Cunningham of Homestead, Pa., near Pittsburgh, owns a 1999 Lexus that’s older than the recalled vehicles. He says he trusts the company and would buy another Lexus.

“It’s a reputable car company, and they aim for perfection, so (the recall) was surprising,” Cunningham said.

Scott Northcutt, a dealer in Enid, Okla., said he was confident that Toyota would do the recall properly. Only a few shoppers have mentioned the issue, and he does not think it cost him any sales.

The recall involves 3.8 million vehicles, including the 2007-10 Camry, 2005-10 Avalon, 2004-09 Prius, 2005-10 Tacoma, 2007-10 Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and 2006-10 Lexus IS250/350.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 4.26 million vehicles would be covered, including new cars and trucks sold or manufactured since September.

The nation’s largest cumulative recall occurred in several increments during the past two years and involved 14 million Ford vehicles with faulty cruise-control switches that could cause fires.

The largest single recall happened in 1996 involving 7.9 million Ford vehicles that needed new ignition switches.

The Toyota recall came about after a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three of his family members near San Diego. The Lexus accelerated to more than 120 mph, struck a sport utility vehicle, bounced off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.

In a frantic 911 call, a family member said the accelerator was stuck.

Investigators determined that a rubber all-weather floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, and it could have snared or covered the gas pedal.

The government has attributed at least five deaths and two injuries to floor mat-related acceleration in the Toyota vehicles. Regulators have received reports of more than 100 other incidents.

A Massachusetts safety consultant who has investigated the Toyota cases has found more than 2,000 incidents with 16 deaths and 243 injuries potentially tied to gas pedals.

Toyota and the government said dealers will shorten the length of the accelerator pedal and in some cases remove foam beneath carpeting to increase space between the pedal and floor. Owners of the ES350, the Camry and the Avalon will get first notification because the vehicles are believed to be at the most risk.

Toyota also plans to install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES350, IS350 and IS250 models. The system will ensure the vehicle will stop if the gas and brakes are applied simultaneously. Toyota plans to make the system standard on new Toyota and Lexus models by the end of 2010.

The automaker and government regulators have been discussing a potential fix for several weeks. Toyota urged owners in September to remove driver’s side floor mats, saying that unhooked mats or replacements stacked atop the originals could lead to stuck accelerators.

John McEleney, a dealer in Clinton, Iowa, said the recall should not damage Toyota’s reputation for quality. Toyotas are more reliable and quieter than ever, and that’s how most people judge quality, he said.

Recalls, he said, are inevitable when a manufacturer assembles thousands of parts to make a car or truck.

“They’re such complicated machines. I think there’s always going to be issues that become concerns from a safety standpoint,” he said.

Tom Beck, a mechanic from Irwin, Pa., near Pittsburgh, said the recall and the possibility of sudden acceleration would not influence his decision to shop for a new Prius to replace a Honda Civic.

“I’m a mechanic,” he said. “If something were to happen, I would just turn the key,” Beck said.

For more information, owners can contact Toyota at 800-331-4331 or the NHTSA hot line at 888-327-4236.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Toyota to replace gas pedals on 3.8 million cars

  1. Closed captioning of: Toyota to replace gas pedals on 3.8 million cars

    >>> now.

    >>> good evening. on this thanksgiving eve, there are millions of them on the road on this holiday getaway night right this very minute. in fact, some of the almost 4 million vehicles made by toyota that are the subject tonight of a massive recall. actually, a fix of an earlier recall. the problem has been this issue with the floor mats and accelerators and sudden acceleration. the risk to safety potentially of course but also a potential problem for the company's reputation for quality. phil lebeau covers cars for us and for cnbc. he's live to start us off tonight at a toyota dealership in naperville, illinois. phil , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. this is one of the models involved in this recall. the 2010 camry. it is toyota 's flagship. it is also the best-selling car in the country. and tonight it is at the heart of a major safety alert. seven weeks after announcing one of the largest auto recalls ever, toyota is fixing potential safety problems involving gas pedals and floor mats on nearly 4 million vehicles. it's modifying gas pedals on 04 to '010 camrys, priuses, avalons, tacomas, and tundras, as well as lexus is-250s and es-350s. steps to correct the potentially deadly problem of accelerators getting lodged under floor mats and preventing drivers from slowing down. a spokesperson for the company says, "we are very confident these measures will alleviate any potential issue involving gas pedals becoming entrapped." the recall was prompted in part by the crash of a lexus es -350 outside of san diego this summer. recorded by 911 when a passenger called for help.

    >> we're in trouble. we can't -- there's no brakes.

    >> reporter: highway patrolman 's mark sailor's lexus sped up to 120 miles per hour and could not be stopped.

    >> we're approaching the intersection. hold on. pray. pray. oh, shoot. oh. oh!

    >> reporter: sailor and his family died in a crash toyota believes may have been caused by the gas pedal being entrapped by the floor mats.

    >> this has kind of snowballed on toyota , and it's become a much broader issue than just the one particular car driven by that family in san diego .

    >> reporter: across the country there have been other reports of toyota 's accelerating for no reason. but repeated investigations by the federal government have not found a problem worthy of a recall. still, with its reputation for safety being questioned, toyota will add a brake override system to future camrys, avalons, and lexus models and extend that offer to current owners as well.

    >> the thing that's probably surprising a lot of people is that it is toyota we're talking about. and toyota for many, many years has been one of the more trusted brands in the auto industry .

    >> reporter: at this toyota dealership outside los angeles the recall worries some customers like adam green .

    >> kind of makes me a little bit nervous to drive my car right now, actually.

    >> reporter: toyota will start notifying owners of recalled cars next month and then begin fixing the gas pedals early next year. brian?

    >> phil lebeau starting us off from the chicago area tonight. phil , thanks.

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