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Toyota announces solution to sudden acceleration problem

Toyota announced last week that it has found a way to correct the potential for millions of its cars and trucks to accelerate unintentionally. The car manufacturer has been exploring feasible solutions since it announced in a safety advisory on September 29 that it would recall 3.8 million vehicles.

In analyzing the problem, most of Toyota’s attention was given to the driver’s side floor mats, which the company says can slide forward and jam the accelerator pedal if improperly secured or mismatched. Rather than issue a recall of the floor mats, however, Toyota said it would develop a vehicle-based solution.

Toyota said that it will redesign the accelerator pedal for all affected vehicles, adjusting its shape so that it can not become trapped by the peripheral ridge of an all-weather rubber floor mat, an improperly secured regular floor mat that slides forward, and other configurations such as a floor mat placed atop another mat.

Toyota will also replace all genuine Toyota and Lexus all-weather floor mats with newly designed driver- and passenger-side mats that reduce the possibility of the accelerator pedal from getting stuck.

Unfortunately, however, Toyota seems to take the acceleration problem much more seriously in its three higher end and luxury models: the Lexus ES350, Camry, and Avalon.

For those three models, Toyota will reshape the floor surface underneath the pedal, widening the gap between the gas pedal and the floor.

The company will also install a brake override system that will cut power to the engine when the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously over a certain speed, but this additional safety feature will be installed only in the recalled ES350, Avalon, and Camry models. Brake override technology, or “smart pedals,” is standard on most German vehicles and Chryslers. The feature helps prevent sudden acceleration incidents from going out of control, whatever the cause.

Drivers of Toyota’s other recalled vehicles will have to rely on their own wits if caught in a sudden acceleration situation. Such measures include checking the floor mat, shifting to neutral, and turning off the ignition.

Toyota will make the brake override system standard equipment standard in all Toyota and Lexus vehicles starting with its January 2010 ES350 and Camry production. The feature will be added to most of its other vehicles by the end of 2010.

Owners of 2007-2010 Tundras, 2005-2010 Tacomas, and 2005-2010 Prius will not have the brake override safety feature installed, even though several incidents of unintended acceleration have been reported in these models.

Toyota will begin contacting owners by first-class mail at the end of the year. Dealers will be trained and equipped to make the necessary repairs starting in 2010. Until the repairs can be made, Toyota asks that drivers of all affected models remove their driver-side floor mats.

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