Toyota Motor Corp. has stopped selling and building eight models, saying there's a possibility that their accelerator pedals may get stuck in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position. Toyota says sudden, uncontrolled acceleration is "rare and infrequent" but is offering few specifics while it investigates. Here are some questions and answers about the issue.
Q: What's causing the problem?
A: Toyota says some accelerator pedal mechanisms may become worn, and combined with condensation moisture or humidity, the friction in the mechanism may increase and make the accelerator pedal stick or become hard to depress. CTS Corp., which makes the pedal mechanisms, says it's aware of fewer than a dozen instances where that's occurred, "and in no instance did the accelerator actually become stuck in a partially depressed condition." Outside experts say it may involve more than one interconnected problem.
Q: Which vehicles are involved?
A: Toyota has identified approximately 2.3 million affected vehicles. The models involved are the 2009-10 Corolla compact sedan, 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, 2007-10 Camry midsize sedan, 2005-10 Avalon large sedan, 2009-10 RAV4 crossover, 2010 Highlander crossover, 2007-10 Tundra pickup and 2008-10 Sequoia SUV. The 2009-10 Pontiac Vibe, which is built on the same platform as the Matrix, is also included.
Q: Are there any warnings that this condition exists in my vehicle?
A: Toyota says the driver may notice that the accelerator pedal gradually becomes harder to depress or is slow to return. In some cases, the driver may notice a rough or chattered feeling when depressing or releasing the accelerator pedal. Toyota recommends that drivers experiencing this problem immediately contact their nearest Toyota dealer.
Q: How many times has the problem occurred?
A: Toyota says the number of incidents is still under investigation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's database shows nearly five dozen complaints on one year's model alone.
CTS says it has no knowledge of any accidents or injuries that have resulted from the problem, but Sean Kane, president of the Massachusetts-based car safety investigation and advocacy group Safety Research and Strategies, said his firm has identified 2,274 incidents of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles leading to at least 275 crashes and 18 deaths since 1999.
Q: If everything seems fine, should I bring my car to the dealership?
A: There may not be much a dealership can do, because Toyota says it is still working to determine how it will correct the problem. Doug Sprinthall, director of new vehicle operations at Walser Automotive Group, said the dealership spent Wednesday morning waiting for guidance from Toyota. "We are still waiting to answer the question, 'What do we tell the customers that are driving the affected vehicles?'" he said.
Jimmy Gray, general manager of Gray-Daniels Toyota in Brandon, Miss., said that for now, his dealership is providing loaner vehicles to concerned customers arriving in cars that need the repair. Other dealerships may do the same.
Q: Is this related to the previous announcement that accelerator pedals were getting stuck under the floor mats in some Toyota vehicles?
A: The mechanical problem follows a larger U.S. recall months earlier of 4.2 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals becoming trapped under floor mats, causing sudden acceleration. That problem was the cause of several crashes, including some fatalities. About 1.7 million vehicles fall under both recalls.
Q: What if the accelerator gets stuck while I'm driving?
A: Even if the engine is racing, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes. Toyota says you should not pump the brakes repeatedly because it could deplete the vacuum assist, which boosts the braking force using power from the engine. If that's depleted, you'll need to put much stronger pressure on the brake pedal. When the vehicle is under control, it should be driven to the nearest safe location, the engine shut off and a Toyota dealer contacted for assistance.
Q: Whom can I call for more information?
A: Customers with questions can call Toyota toll-free at 1-800-331-4331.