It’s major news when any automaker is forced to recall 2.3 million models in North America to correct a problem that may result in unintended acceleration. It’s even more newsworthy when that company is Toyota, an automaker that otherwise enjoys a well-publicized reputation for building top-quality cars and trucks.
Toyota’s massive recall is actually part of a one-two punch hit to the giant Japanese automaker. It follows quickly on the heels of its decision to halt production and sales a time while it searched for a fix for the potentially fatal problem car detailing.
For those keeping score, the number of cars, SUVs, and pickups subject to Toyota’s latest recall amounts to some 530,000 more vehicles than the automaker sold in the U.S. during all of 2009. The recalls involver several Toyota-brand vehicles, as well as three models it manufacturers under its premium Lexus brand. It also involves the Pontiac Vibe, which shares its engineering with the Toyota Matrix.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 19 deaths have been linked to alleged sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles over the past decade. That’s nearly twice as many incidents as attributed to all other manufacturers combined during the same period. If that’s not damaging enough to Toyota’s corporate image, federal officials are also beginning to look into (as of this writing) around 100 complaints regarding faulty brakes in the popular Toyota Prius hybrid. Then there are likely civil actions — perhaps even legislative measures – that could be taken that would take a further toll on Toyota.
There are actually two recalls related to unintended acceleration in Toyota models. The first involves replacing driver’s-side floor mats in an estimated 5.35 million models. Toyota says the mats may inadvertently become caught under the accelerator pedal, causing it to stick in open-throttle mode.
The second and more recent recall involves fewer vehicles, but is a more complicated fix. Here Toyota engineers have isolated the problem to a friction device in the accelerator-pedal assembly. They say it rubs against a nearby metal surface to provide the proper “feel” in what is otherwise an electronic throttle control. (Many cars today eschew the traditional mechanical throttle linkage for what amounts to a variable electronic switch).
Wear-and-tear over time is believed to cause the pedals to operate less smoothly, Toyota says, and in infrequent cases to stick at least partially open. Toyota’s solution, at least for now, is to insert a steel plate into the pedal assembly that will reduce friction and, presumably, ensure smooth operation.
Toyota says the pedal assembly repair will take about 30 minutes of labor at a Toyota dealership. It will be performed at no charge to the consumer, and will be covered under warranty for the life of the vehicle. With a whopping 2.3 million vehicles involved in the accelerator pedal issue alone, however, landing a service appointment will likely take some time and test the patience of already-concerned Toyota owners.