By on September 30, 2009

Ghost in the ES350... (courtesy:bakersfieldnow.com)

Before we jump into this one, it’s important to lay out a few caveats. The first is that, in general, TTAC doesn’t do recalls. It’s impossible to cover them with any fairness, and most of the time they’re inconsequential or hard to verify. The second is that TTAC really, really doesn’t do sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) scares. If someone tells you their throttle sticks wide open at precisely the same time as their brakes fail, they’re either covering for their own incompetence or looking for a buck. Period. Now, the proliferation of computer controls may have introduced a greater possibility of simultaneous system failures than existed on old, mechanically-actuated brakes and throttles. In fact, the recent rash of SUA complaints involving Toyota and Lexus models had me wondering if ghosts in the machine were rendering the time-tested SUA debunking test obsolete. No such luck. It turns out it’s the floormats, stupid. Toyota initially dismissed all SUA claims, but now Bloomberg reports they’re recalling floor mats on 3.8m Toyota and Lexus models for causing the gas pedal to stick.

How this issue wasn’t caught in Toyota’s product testing is a mystery. The NHTSA has received 102 complaints about the mats and their role in possible SUA incidents. And these are floormats, not lines of code controlling fuel injection. In other words, if this was going to be an issue it should have been fairly obvious to Toyota’s designers, testers and developers. On the other hand, Toyota’s dismissal of the early Tacoma SUA reports shows that the big T takes what I’d call a healthily skeptical approach to all SUA claims. Unfortunately, while Toyota’s assumption that people involved in SUA claims were either stupid or ignorant was essentially correct, it neither fully explained the phenomenon nor absolved the company from guilt.

Now, a well-informed, seasoned driver can tell when a mat is interfering with pedal operation. And he can certainly tell the difference between pedal interference and a computer going haywire. More importantly, once the problem has been identified he can either remove or modify the mat before it interferes at a potentially dangerous moment. The problem is that this level of competence appears to be shockingly rare in the United States, and Toyota really should have known it. Toyota should have understood that a piece of fabric sliding out of place would lead a healthy number of Americans to believe their car was possessed by demons. As my man Mencken put it, no one ever went broke under-estimating the intelligence of the American Public.

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85 Comments on “Toyota Can’t Get The Floormats Right...”


  • avatar
    bill h.

    Another Mencken quote I like, with the c word:

    “The older I get, the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.”

  • avatar
    Mikein08

    Well, I had a similar but reverse problem with
    a new 1975 plymouth. Took a very competent
    mechanic about 2 days to find it, after the
    dealer said – repeatedly – that there was no
    problem.

    God bless Mencken.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    there ya go, blame the customer. That always works.
    Besides, how are you going to notice the mat is hitting the pedal when you are busy texting?

  • avatar

    I see this issue as yet another good reason to drive a stick. What better way to control a “runaway car” than a simple pedal that disengages the transmission? Double-footing the clutch and brake pedal is second-nature to every person who drives a manual transmission. I would therefore postulate that there has NEVER been a documented case of SUA in a manual shift car. If that California Trooper had a manual transmission he and his family would be alive today.

    Drive a stick, save a life.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    I think that Toyota is handling this right…. they’re getting out front (after the disaster with the Lexus Loaner) and recalling just about everything with mats. It would have been a mistake to just recall a particular model of Lexus and later all similar Lexi(?) Lexuses(?) and eventually all Toyotas. Just get it over with.

    They didn’t wake up fast enough with the sludging problem, but that fiasco appears to have taught them an important lesson: people fears of something dramatic happening are much more important than the actual likelihood of it actually occuring.

    Further, the fact that it’s the owner/driver’s fault and responsibility won’t stop them from blaming the company.

    So, good move Toyota!

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Odd, when I heard this on the radio news in Australia today we were told it did not effect Australian spec cars.

    The kind of mat is not used by Toyota in Australia, or the carpet clips were of a different design, or something like that.

    Supplier problem?

  • avatar

    Toyota’s failure to find the problem may be easily and reasonably explained. A small percentage of owners may inadvertently be pushing the mats forward with their feet, something that professional drivers I’m guessing Toyota uses in the testing are less likely to do. Couple that with the rarity of the phenomenon, and it’s even less likely that the testers would find it.

    Anyone who knows more about this have an alternative explanation?

  • avatar
    polpo

    PeteMoran: It’s probably because the mats are different in RHD drives.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    I saw DeLorenzo’s writing about it earlier, and I can’t avoid lining with his position.

    As my man Mencken put it, no one ever went broke under-estimating the stupidity of the American Public.

    EPIC!!!!

    @ Chuck:

    Double-footing the clutch and brake pedal is second-nature to every person who drives a manual transmission

    Huh?… and I’ve driven ONLY manual for about 14 years already.

    Also, people could dissengage the slushbox and put it into neutral… I guess.

  • avatar
    gm-uawtool

    Lokkii – “It would have been a mistake to just recall a particular model of Lexus and later all similar Lexi(?) Lexuses(?) and eventually all Toyotas.”

    That is exactly what Toyota did. This is the third attempt at resolving the phantom mat issue. I personally find it hard to believe that a 19-year CHIP veteran couldn’t conclude that the mat was the problem. Furthermore, witnesses reported that the Lexus’ tires were on fire when it crashed – probably due to intense (unsuccessful) braking.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “This is similar to the old Audi unintended acceleration issue of the 80’s. This is NOT a vehicle problem but a STUPID DRIVER problem.
    As the article says:
    “Step firmly on the brake pedal with both feet;

    • Or shift into neutral and use the brake to stop the vehicle;

    • Or turn off the engine.:

    DUH!!!!!

    There is NO car made that can’t be stopped by the excellent brakes found on all of them. There is no car made that cannot be shifted into neutral at any time (you may lose an engine but save your life).

    9/30/2009 9:48 AM EDT ”

    Now we have a good guess as to the cause of the so-called “unintended acceleration” in 80s Audis.

    TOyota has learned Audi’s lesson. It does not matter that it is the fault of its auto illiterate drivers. It HAD to avoid becoming another 60 min victim like Audi.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    I personally think there are two problems here, a ergonomic/design issue of the gas pedal (lots of other makes/models have no problems with floor mats) and I still believe there is a rare computer glitch that also causes some instances of this WOT event.

    Since Toyota wasn’t able to figure out the rare computer issue, they are using the floor mat excuse to cover their asses for ALL reports of unintended acceleration.

    But if they end up redesigning the gas pedal to solve the issue, doesn’t that still set them up for a class action suit in a litigious happy United States?

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Chuck, the trooper who died with his family in that crash was driving a dealership loaner ES350, and being unfamiliar with the vehicle may have prevented him from reacting well enough. The ES350 has push-button start, which can be turned off by holding the button for 3 seconds (I can imagine him trying to push it, but not long enough). You’re right though, a stick driver would immediately think of going to neutral while an automatic driver might not remember that neutral exists. The ES probably has a normal automatic shifter – but what about cars that don’t?

    But hey, this is easier to deal with than those cars from the ‘60s and ‘70s that occasionally suffered from the throttle cable coming loose. I’ll keep the electronics…

  • avatar
    bill h.

    BTW, how are these mats designed? Do they have only little “carpet grabber” spikes underneath? On my cars (another make) the mats have plastic grommets woven into them, which fit over little knobs/plugs set in the permanent carpet lining on the floor, so when properly fitted the mats cannot move.

    Yet on a 90s Previa van we still have, it has similar grommets and hooks on the carpet and mats. Did Toyota go away from this concept since then?

  • avatar
    tced2

    It has been reported that Toyota finally issued a recall after a driver (in California) and his passengers were killed with an out-of-control car. It was a Lexus with the “wrong” floor mats. LS mats in an ES?
    The interesting part of the story was the driver was able to take the time to make a 911 phone call to “discuss” the problem with the emergency operator. Why didn’t the driver actually take some real action? Like pulling the errant floor mat out of the way? Moving the transmission to neutral? Pressing the brake pedal? All of these actions can actually fix the situation – a 911 operator can’t fix it.

  • avatar
    sco

    on a 90s Previa van we still have, it has similar grommets and hooks on the carpet and mats. Did Toyota go away from this concept since then?

    My 2006 Scion Xb has this hook and grommet arrangment – works great. My 1998 Honda Civic does not and I have received frantic calls from wife and 17 YO daughter as to why the car wont go when the gas pedal is pressed (with the mat bunched up underneath it). I would think all manufacturers would go with the fixed mat given the risk

  • avatar
    Yuppie

    Like many others, I am flabbergasted that a veteran of the California Highway Patrol, a job which, presumably, includes almost daily driving, did not shift into Neutral during a period of time which was lengthly enough for his passenger to specifically point out the alleged problem to a 911 operator.

  • avatar
    baabthesaab

    Good article, Ed, but please re-read your buddy Mencken. Not to nitpick (much), but it should be “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the INTELLIGENCE of the American people”.
    And it is so true, too.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    Furthermore, witnesses reported that the Lexus’ tires were on fire when it crashed – probably due to intense (unsuccessful) braking.

    Hasn’t it been well-established that it is virtually impossible for full throttle to overcome full braking power (assuming of course that all systems are operating correctly)? If he had simply slammed on the brakes, the ES should’ve slowed down considerably and eventually stopped, even with WOT, right? Something is odd about this story.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    gm-uawtool :

    It would have been a mistake to just recall a particular model of Lexus and later all similar Lexi(?) Lexuses(?) and eventually all Toyotas.”

    That is exactly what Toyota did. This is the third attempt at resolving the phantom mat issue. I personally find it hard to believe that a 19-year CHIP veteran couldn’t conclude that the mat was the problem. Furthermore, witnesses reported that the Lexus’ tires were on fire when it crashed – probably due to intense (unsuccessful) braking.

    Oh dear…. Toyota has a problem. And I don’t just mean with floormats or computer chips. It’s an organizational culture that says “We’re U.S. Steel GM Xerox IBM Enron Toyota. We can’t make a mistake. ”

    Oh dear….

  • avatar
    gm-uawtool

    tced2 – It was not the driver who called 911 but a female passenger – either his wife or daughter. Am I giving too much credit for common sense to a 19-year highway patrolman? Think about it – the gas pedal is not coming back up when you take your foot off of it, so what’s your first move? Probably to use your foot to pull it back, and then if the mat feels like it’s in the way, pulling it back. I, too, am skeptical of sudden acceleration claims, but the experience of this driver and the time the event lasted and the fire coming from the brakes (ala nascar)make me very suspicious.

  • avatar
    krazykarguy

    Who wants to take the bet that the rubber floor mats in the affected vehicles are actually placed over the carpet mats (and installed incorrectly)???

  • avatar
    vvk

    Modern drivers have traded skill for luxury, power and convenience. Modern car cuddle their drivers into using cellphones, drinking, eating, texting, talking, tending to children — all without paying too much attention to the task of driving. Smooth automatic transmissions combined with extremely powerful engines, electronic aids and incredible level of passive safety have made something as basic as driving skill or even driving culture to fade into the mists of the past. Skillful drivers who value active safety features, light weight, superior control of manual transmission and communicative steering are increasingly a niche market for automakers. Most people are lulled into thinking that it’s OK to pay little attention to the art of driving. Most automakers are only too glad to oblige them.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    I have a 2009 Toyota Corolla (not involved in the recall)

    The reason the floor mats are a problem is because the carpet in these cars is of such a low pile and is so smooth that the little rubber nipples on the back of the floor mats can not penetrate into the carpet to keep the mats from slipping. My Corolla has two plastic hooks that keep the drivers mat in place but if i do not hook the mat, it eventually slides up under the pedals. When it is hooked, it is pretty hard to unhook it to clean the mat. (most of the time, when you try to unhook it, half of the sand that is on the mat falls on the carpet, which is what the mats were designed to avoid in the first place :-/) I imagine that these other Toyotas have the hooks too, but since it is such hassle to unhook them, I bet lots of people just leave them unhooked.

    The Corolla’s driver’s side floor mat has a big section missing around the gas pedal which is probably why it is not included in the recall, but it does leave a pretty big area of the carpet unprotected. Dirty carpet is better than an out of control car is the thinking, I assume.

    The deep, plush, shag carpet of my 1979 Lincoln has no such problems keeping the 30 year old floor mats in place, however.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    tced2:
    The interesting part of the story was the driver was able to take the time to make a 911 phone call to “discuss” the problem with the emergency operator.

    Actually, it was a passenger (his brother-in-law) that made the call to 911. Pretty horrific stuff on the 911 tape, which recorded the crsh.

  • avatar
    baabthesaab

    +1 for Chuck Goolsbee and the manual transmission! Sure an automatic can be shifted into neutral, but how reflexive is that? Any manual driver slamming the brake is ready with the clutch as well.

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    TOYOTA SUCKS!!!

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Baabthesaab: Right you are. Text amended.

  • avatar
    zaitcev

    Toyota and Lexus mats are kept in place by monstrous dual hooks, which BTW my previous cars made by other manufacturers lacked. I’m pretty sure Toyota invented those hooks when they assumed that complainers were honest and not trying to get rich by litigation.

    P.S. Stick lovers should also adjust the mixture and spark advance manually. Why keep up with progress in all areas instead of only one?

  • avatar
    chuckR

    Ahem.

    Maybe Toyota should replace these mats with ones from RF’s favorite purveyor – WeatherTech ;);) They are thin and closely fitted so they won’t slide around. Nothing to bunch up.

    I think it’s a matter of time until we see something like this caused by electronics. You have e-throttle, cruise control, a button to turn the car on and maybe another one to turn it off. Hey, let’s add in a collision avoidance sensor system too. What could possibly go wrong?

    My daily driver has e-throttle and you can order a factory option for more aggressive mapping. Also, for less than half the factory price you can put third party electronics in-line right on the accelerator pedal. Hilarity might ensue….

  • avatar
    Hippo

    Did they find a way to reflash US drivers with artificial intelligence yet?

  • avatar
    segfault

    The problem is that this level of competence appears to be shockingly rare in the United States, and Toyota really should have known it. Toyota should have understood that a piece of fabric sliding out of place would lead a healthy number of Americans to believe their car was possessed by demons.

    Amen. If they had observed the buyers of their cars (and every other brand), they’d discover that the average buyer is too busy texting, reading, talking on the cell phone, eating, putting on makeup, and darting in and out of traffic to be bothered with petty things like paying attention to the road, paying attention to their vehicle, or floormat placement.

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    I gotta agree with every one who said : Hey why not shift to neutral?

    Or turn the key off.

    or anything besides letting the car speed out of control.

    Quite frankly if one does not have the sense to do any of these things, well… Darwin at work? Just sayin’…

    Morons.

  • avatar
    jmo

    (you may lose an engine but save your life).

    I’m not aware of any car for sale that doesn’t come with a rev limiter.

    Secondly, as part of their testing regime most auto manufactures run their engines at red-line for up to two weeks to check for wear. None is usually found.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Some witnesses reported seeing fire coming from the wheels, as in overheated/glowing brakes. If the driver repeatedly used the brakes partially, at high speed, instead of one forceful braking to stop the car, that would have caused the brakes to overheat and become ineffective.

  • avatar
    windswords

    alfred p. sloan,

    Would you say that if one of your family members was in the ES350 involed in the fiery crash? Or if you or one of your family members was in another car hit by a driver who was a “moron” because he/she panicked and didn’t do the obvious things to stoop the vehicle?

    Just wonderin’…

  • avatar
    incitatus

    Driver and his family paid with their lives for their lack of action (shift to neutral, turn of engine, etc.) but the real cause of this and the following Toyota recall may be something totally different.
    Have you noticed that the cars in dealerships lots have the mats turned upside down such that they don’t get soiled up in test drives, etc. I bet you there is nothing wrong with the mats in Toyota cars is just the improper use of the mats that led to an unfortunate situation.
    Just sayin’…

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    All the Toyota/Lexus factory floormats i’ve seen over the past 7+ years have had both a pair of clips to secure them to the floor plus rubber cleats on their underside to dig into the carpeted floor. This seems adequate IMHO. I’ve never had any problem with properly installed mats.

    However, my local Lexus dealer has a bad habit of putting a set of all-weather mats upside down in the front footwells in loaner cars to protect floormats and carpet from dirt, which is truly dangerous (and stupid, considering all the warning memos they’ve surely gotten from Toyota Corporate regarding mat recalls, proper installation, etc.). I always throw them in the back seat before driving off the lot, though.

    Regarding whether to point fingers at defective floormats or defective drivers as the cause of crashes: All I can say is that years ago when an aftermarket cruise control in my stick shift Camry malfunctioned and cranked the throttle wide open as I turned into a store parking lot, in addition to panicking and wondering what the heck was going on, I instinctively slammed on the brakes, and the car stopped. No flames, no smoke, etc.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    Shift an automatic into neutral? I’d say that’s beyond the abilities of most car drivers since neutral is rarely used outside of car washes. Shifting into park they could manage, but everyone knows you never, ever do that when the car is moving.

  • avatar
    izzy

    I followed the story in the news. What a horrible way to die! I think being on an unfamiliar car plays a part. I wouldn’t have the presence of mind to know that it’s the floor mat early enough myself. Although, I would have tried putting it in neutral.
    Agree with the stick shift sentiments. Don’t buy the breaks being able to overpower the drive train under ALL conditions though.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “windswords :
    September 30th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    alfred p. sloan,

    Would you say that if one of your family members was in the ES350 involed in the fiery crash? Or if you or one of your family members was in another car hit by a driver who was a “moron” because he/she panicked and didn’t do the obvious things to stoop the vehicle?

    Just wonderin’…”

    Regardless of what Sloan will respond, here is my 2 cents:

    Just because they are family members, if they did the above, they are at least Auto illiterates with not even an ounce of common sense. “Moron” is a word often used to exaggerate, and not with its strict clinical meaning, which is a level or mental retardation actually below that of “idiot” and “imbecile”, as we learned in our High school Psych class, which was quite advanced, used a college text “Psych and Life” I still have around.

    That person would be doubly auto illiterate if it chose the inferior Lexus ES350 (the only REAL, unique Lexus is the LS460) instead of the near-identical CAMRY one can get with equal levels of options for at least $5k less.

  • avatar
    MidLifeCelica

    npbheights :
    I think you have defined the problem exactly. My carpet is in no way plush enough to hold a mat with those little pins alone either. On the passenger side my factory original floor mat is bunched up against the firewall with a permanent crease in the middle because everyone who drops down into this low-slung car has to brace their feet on the floor to avoid falling, and there are no mat hooks at all on that side. Getting in feet-first is not the right method! I sit on the driver seat first and then pull my legs in after, which is much easier and also prevents movement of the mat.

    BTW, you got TWO hooks in your Corolla? On each side? Must be nice! My Celica GTS has just one, on the left side of the drivers mat, a move that must have saved Toyota millions. It is not a well designed hook either, so the mat can slip off with almost no effort. The mat gets loose or pivots frequently, even though I enter carefully, so I check it all the time. Maybe I need to buy 4 sturdy, useful hooks and fix this issue once and for all.

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    windswords:

    YES. If my family member was hit by a “panicked” driver of a “run-away” car I would continue to call the driver of said “run-away” car a Moron.

    Yes.

    There is so many ways to stop a car that if you don’t try at least one you ARE a moron who shouldn’t be driving. It’s not like a television, where if you don’t know how it works you can’t hurt anyone else. If you know nothing about the automobile and it’s basic mechanics (ie, floor mats can slide under pedals) you are a moron who should take a bus.

    Look people, learn something about your car and how it works. I work in a shop and am surprised everyday by the level of basic mechanical ignorance of the people who pilot cars on the road.

    If you know nothing of how a gun works and the trigger “sticks” and you shoot somebody is it Smith and Wessons fault you pointed it at anywhere but the ground?

    Knowlage can’t stop the mechanical failures but can help you deal with them when they arise. If you choose to be willfully ignorant of the way things work in your car and then kill someone you have moved from being innocent to being a moron. A dangerous moron.

  • avatar
    wsn

    # bfg9k :
    September 30th, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Shift an automatic into neutral? I’d say that’s beyond the abilities of most car drivers since neutral is rarely used outside of car washes. Shifting into park they could manage, but everyone knows you never, ever do that when the car is moving.
    —————–

    Maybe neutral is too much for the average American idiot. But lower gears are more often used. If the driver pushed it to the lowest gear possible, the top speed would be very limited.

  • avatar
    alfred p. sloan

    wsn :
    September 30th, 2009 at 1:42 pm
    —————–

    Maybe neutral is too much for the average American idiot. But lower gears are more often used. If the driver pushed it to the lowest gear possible, the top speed would be very limited.

    True enough, but do remember the lower gears will increase torque to the wheels, making the brakes less effective against the WOT engine.

    Best solution, turn the key off.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    “That person would be doubly auto illiterate if it chose the inferior Lexus ES350 (the only REAL, unique Lexus is the LS460) instead of the near-identical CAMRY one can get with equal levels of options for at least $5k less.”

    In the recent accident we’ve been talking about, it was a loaner ES350 from the dealership.

  • avatar
    PartsUnknown

    Saw a story on this on last night’s news. It is theorized that all-weather rubber mats in the ill-fated ES were placed over the carpet mats, thus allowing them to slide all over the place.

    They interviewed a local Toyota franchise owner and he brought out an OEM Toyota all-weather mat. A close-up shot showed that it is stamped “Always Remove Carpet Mats Before Installing These All-Weather Mats” or something to that effect.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    OK, I’m going to ask a dumb question. Every floor mat I’ve had that tended to slide didn’t cause the accelerator pedal to jam at full throttle. It slid under the pedal and limited power since you couldn’t push it all the way to the floor.

    So, how do Toyota floor mats jam the pedal at full throttle? The mat would somehow have to land on top of the pedal.

  • avatar
    vento97

    vvk:
    Modern drivers have traded skill for luxury, power and convenience. Modern car cuddle their drivers into using cellphones, drinking, eating, texting, talking, tending to children — all without paying too much attention to the task of driving.

    Sir, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Not to mention SPOT ON!!! That’s exactly what I’ve been railing about for years (and have seen many examples on the road first-hand during my daily commute). “Idiocracy” definitely abounds on today’s roadways…

  • avatar
    windswords

    wsn & Autosavant,

    Common-sense sometimes takes flight when people aren’t in common surroundings. The quoted case of the CHP officer proves that point. He was in an unfamiliar loaner traveling at a high rate of speed from an unknown cause. Besides, why would he check the mat if he just got it from the dealer? I’m sure not many people do a full 360-degree inspection and test drive of a loaner/rental before driving it off the lot. Also, I’m pretty sure the dealer didn’t tell him “to shut the car off in an emergency, hold the start/stop button for 3 seconds” when he picked it up.

    alfred p. sloan,

    You are missing the point of my post. It not the use of the derogatory “Moron”, that caused me to write, it was your dismissive attitude concerning the lives of those lost in the wreck. The automotive equivalent of “Are there no charities, Have they no orphanages?” (my apologies to Dickens if the quote is not word for word). As for calling someone a Moron read what I posted above. It’s quite possible for someone to be confused enough in an unfamiliar car to not do the “right” thing in a panic situation. Testimony that the brakes were on fire/glowing shows that he attempted to use the brakes but not in the right way; i.e. pushing them down as hard as he could and holding them there. My guess is he thought the engine would stop its acceleration each time he applied the brakes. Maybe when he realized the engine was not going to stop it’s behavior, the brakes were already too faded/overheated to do any good.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Since the majority of posters here feels that this is not a legitimate recall issue maybe we can talk about something that is. Sienna vans have been having issues with the electric sliding doors breaking soon after the warranty expires costing anywhere from $2500-$3500 to fix. The part responsible can’t be replaced individually, you have to replace the entire system. The door track becomes bent barely holding in the door casing the wire to twist until it finally frays and snaps. There is no warning until it actually breaks, and then “Oh, what a feeling!”.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    omnifan is correct.
    bash the user all you want.
    In hind sight this is a shitty pedal design.
    I haven’t had a pedal that touched the flat floor for 20 yrs.
    I think the industry standard was to get pedals off the floor, Toyota went their own way. Oh what a feeling. And good luck holding the start button in for 3 seconds to stop the “runaway” car.

  • avatar
    RetardedSparks

    baabthesaab: thanks for catching the mis-quote. That didn’t make sense and was bugging me.

    I agree that every has has brakes stronger than the engine. That’s how you can left foot brake a race car. Shifting to neutral would work, of course, and probably wouldn’t wreck the engine since the rev limiter would kick in.

    It’s strange it took Toyota so long to find this. As they say in medical school “When you hear hoof-beats think horses, not zebras.”

    BTW, I hear Toyota is issuing a recall on all 10M of their American drivers.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Toyota’s failure to find the problem may be easily and reasonably explained. A small percentage of owners may inadvertently be pushing the mats forward with their feet,

    Probably because they’re not clipping the mats down. My Protege5 used to tear the (single) metal eye out of the mats each year and Mazda would dutifully replace them. I’d never had it bunch up under the accelerator, but I did get the clutch stuck a few times.

    What we’re probably seeing here is a Perfect Storm:
    * People not using the mat hooks correctly (it happens; Edmunds complained about the mats in the Fit constantly, despite owners chiming in about how they should be clipped down)
    * People layering the rubber mats over the carpet ones
    * Not notice your mat is creeping up
    * People not knowing how to stop a car (eg, stomp on the brake, take the key out, shift to neutral, etc) and panicking.

    You have to do the first and/or second plus the third and fourth to cause an accident. That might not happen under controlled conditions because, as anyone who’s done systems analysis knows, there’s always at least one more probable outcome you didn’t think about.

    I’m tempted to say that people are stupid, or that they’re splitting their attention, but the real truth is that people are people. We’re not appreciably less intelligent or virtuous then we were a half-century ago, there’s just more of us, and we’ve traded social drinking and no seat belts for texting and cellphone use.

    I also don’t think that having a manual transmission would have helped these people because they’re probably inattentive drivers anyway. These are probably the same people who drive two-footed, don’t check their mirrors and pay no attention to the car. They probably burn their oatmeal and forget to feed the dog. Having a stick just gives them one more thing to screw up in a panic (eg, stomp on the clutch and gas instead of the brake and coast into someone’s rear bumper.

    And these aren’t dumb people. I’ve seen multi-PhDs do stuff like this. It happens, and you, as an analyst or engineer, should work around it.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    @npbheights:

    You sir, have nailed it exactly! As the owner of a 2005 Avalon Limited (wifes car) I can tell you that the problem was almost certainly caused by failing to resecure the floor mats to the clips after cleaning. I ALWAYS check to make sure they are on the clips 100% when I remove them to shake the dirt out. I think the dealer did not resecure the mats when the car was cleaned, or they put another set of mats over the carpeted OEM mats. This is only my opinion of course, and I am sure we will hear additional details in a few days. It seems that any manufacturer these days has to protect themselves from anything. You know this country is in trouble when cups have to be labeled with “caution coffee is hot”.

  • avatar
    86er

    Sienna vans have been having issues with the electric sliding doors breaking soon after the warranty expires costing anywhere from $2500-$3500 to fix.

    That’s what they get for buying a Toyota.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Omnifan :
    September 30th, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    OK, I’m going to ask a dumb question. Every floor mat I’ve had that tended to slide didn’t cause the accelerator pedal to jam at full throttle. It slid under the pedal and limited power since you couldn’t push it all the way to the floor.

    So, how do Toyota floor mats jam the pedal at full throttle? The mat would somehow have to land on top of the pedal.

    —————————-

    1) Look at the picture above.
    2) You are not stupid.

  • avatar
    wsn

    windswords :
    September 30th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    He was in an unfamiliar loaner traveling at a high rate of speed from an unknown cause.

    ———-

    It’s a Camry rebadge after all. How “unfamiliar” can that be? Camries are known to be user-friendly (if not user-exciting). It’s not like he was driving an Enzo or anything like that.

    If he can get himself into trouble in an ES, he shouldn’t be touching any car.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “..There is no warning until it actually breaks, and then “Oh, what a feeling!”.”

    Let’s make a deal. Drop all floormat acceleration recalls if Toyota instead recalls, from here to eternity, ALL “oh what a feeling” ‘actors pretending to be morons jumping up in orgasm’ ads.

    They are not believable anyway. If it was a porsche or Ferrari ad, it would be far more believable.

  • avatar
    srh

    I imagine many of the comments here are from people who have never experienced this type of situation.

    I have experienced it. In my case it was my mom’s Ford Tempo, back in the late 80s. I was perhaps 16. I had just turned onto a highway off-ramp, and started pressing the brake pedal to slow down. The car did not slow down.

    I pressed harder, as I was rapidly approaching the end of the off-ramp. The car still did not slow. Now, had I been thinking clearly, I would have realized that perhaps I should shift into neutral. But I wasn’t thinking clearly, I was acting reflexively. I stood on the brake pedal, and the car came to a stop, then the engine died. The floormat, of course, was holding the gas pedal down.

    I got lucky. The Tempo didn’t have a particularly powerful engine, and I was strong enough to get the brake to stop the engine. I can see how many people might not be so lucky.

    In times of desperation one’s instincts tend to override rational thought. That’s often a good thing. But unless you’ve practiced shifting into neutral in a panic situation, when the need arises you probably won’t think about doing it.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    My favorite dumb driver story, I’m getting my car serviced at a shop. This guy pulls in the driveway, “hey I’m hearing some sort of noise from under my car, can you check it out.” The shop owner and I are sitting on a bench in front of the car and can plainly see a plastic bag stuck under his car. Owner says “you’ve got a plastic bag stuck under there.” Guy says “really, how much would you charge me to remove it?” We both start laughing. Owner says “$500… just kidding” gets up and pulls it off. Guy stands there feeling incredibly stupid.

    That being said, having a stuck gas pedal can cause panic, and panic overwhelms reason. So it’s a problem, not everybody can be Mario Andretti…

  • avatar
    npbheights

    @midlifecelica & BMWfan

    Thank You for actually reading my comment. It seems al ot of the commenters on this thread have never even sat in a current era Toyota.

    Yes, There are two hook for the drivers side mat, and it works perfectly. The passenger side does not have the clips. The car came with carpet mats which I replaced with Toyota all weather black rubber mats. The rubber mats actually are embossed with “Do Not Place On Top Of Existing Floormats” right on them. I thought it was a little tacky at first, but got over it.

    I originally ordered WeatherTech rubber mats because they came in tan to match the interior but they were dangerous because they sent me Camry mats even though I specified “Corolla”. The were obviously wrong, too large and they did make the gas pedal stick. (I used them for two days) The holes for the hooks were in totally different places too. When I called WeatherTech they basically said, “Camry Mats sould work in a Corolla”. I emailed them photos and they promply said to return them for a refund. They did not make Corolla ones for the new body style at the time. Don’t know if they do now either.

    This is all just user error, and I think Toyota has gone above and beyond with hooks, embossed warnings and now a “recall” in which they will probabaly just show the car owners the clips that anyone should have been able to figure out.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    “Most people are lulled into thinking that it’s OK to pay little attention to the art of driving. Most automakers are only too glad to oblige them.”

    @vvk. Nailed it.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    I would suggest that rubber mats over the Custom Rug Mats may be the problem, when I install my Rubber Mats for Winter use, I remove the orginial cloth Rugs as you are told to do, so suggest its part of a problem caused by some dealers wanting to protect the orginial rugs maybe?

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    Yes this is a problem that is only going to effect idiots, but the worlds best Buick is supposed to be idiot-proof. Why do people buy Toyota products to begin with? Because they want a car they don’t have to worry about or mess-around with in any way, including floor-mats.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I was strong enough to get the brake to stop the engine.

    Unless there is brake failure, brakes should always be able to stop a vehicle, even if the accelerator is being floored.

    I still believe there is a rare computer glitch that also causes some instances of this WOT event.

    That doesn’t explain why the brakes allegedly don’t work. Working brakes should always stop a car.

    That’s the thing that makes all of these unintended acceleration cases questionable. Those who were involved in them always claimed that they were trying to stop, yet brake failure isn’t apparent. The brakes should have stopped the car.

    If it’s anything like the Audi case, then one might surmise that drivers are hitting the accelerator by mistake, and then compound the problem by flooring as they try to brake with the wrong pedal. That could be a matter of pedal sizing and placement, an ergonomic problem that facilitates driver error.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    When driving the wife’s 2007 RAV4, I can easily depress the accelerator pedal with my size 13-2E’s while trying to brake. The pedals are too small and too close together.

  • avatar

    Furthermore, witnesses reported that the Lexus’ tires were on fire when it crashed – probably due to intense (unsuccessful) braking.

    I find that hard to believe. There’s not a car made today whose brakes will not stop a car at full throttle. That was the case during the Audi 5000 SUA scare a couple decades ago and it’s still the case.

    Why people don’t just switch off the ignition (while not locking the steering column)?

    The 911 call from the victims of that crash said that the brakes were not working. Perhaps the floor mats were fouling the brake pedal as well.

    Still, it’s interesting to see the propensity of some folks to defend Toyota. If this was GM it’d be used as an example of their incompetence. Frankly I was wondering if TTAC would cover this recall (it’s not a run of the mill recall – it’s the largest US recall in Toyota’s history), before it covered the Camaro service bulletins.

  • avatar
    86er

    When driving the wife’s 2007 RAV4, I can easily depress the accelerator pedal with my size 13-2E’s while trying to brake. The pedals are too small and too close together.

    That, coupled with a seat track that only goes back so far, tells me it’s a vehicle intended for women.

    In my view, there hasn’t been a car more catered to women since Dodge came out with La Femme.

  • avatar
    KGrGunMan

    I’ve had floor mat problems on my 2005 tacoma (it’s on the list) but i’ve never had it stay floored, my floor mat does keep coming loose and moving around, however the only problem i have from it is not being able to floor the gas, so i can only give it 90% throttle till i move the mat, at worst i have had it do this with my brake but i could still apply 90% brake so it was not that big of a deal.

    then again my truck did come with a fail safe for this problem, it’s called a clutch, so if it would happen to stay floored i can stop that driving out of control B.S.

    everyone thinks toyota’s are boring, this just adds excitment to driving, and it’s toyota’s way of trying to kill lazy automatic drivers so more people will buy manuals, keep up the good work toyota!

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame the CHP driver in the Lexus accident.

    If the accelerator sticks and the car starts accelerating quickly, it will probably take a little bit of time to realize what is happening and calm down enough to start to react. By that time you are probably traveling at least 90 MPH (assuming you started at highway speeds). You can’t hold the start/stop button down for 3 seconds. You need both hands on the wheel to avoid traffic and keep the car on the road! You need a passenger to hold down the start/stop button for 3 seconds. But since the driver is swerving and everyone is panicking the seat belt pre-tensioners are going to be acting up, “pulling” passengers back into their seats with every bump or swerve. Someone is going to have to unbelt themselves at a time when they need the seatbelt the most! I can only imagine the stress and fear that would go along with such a situation and don’t doubt that many people will lock up and forget to do simple things to fix the situation.

    Also, I have been trying to think of the last vehicle I had which didn’t have hooks to keep the floormats in place. I think it was an 85 Honda. My Audi and Volvo actually have little nubs instead of hooks. The factory floormats have the grommets that pop onto the nubs and are held in place just as securely as with hooks. However, if you splurge and purchase the OEM rubberized winter mats, the mat openings snap perfectly onto the nubs, creating a watertight seal. I can dump a liter or two of water on the winter mats without a drop getting on the carpet. If you get snow where you live, the OEM winter mats are well worth the $100 or so they charge. I believe the nubs are far superior to the hooks and am surprised that Lexus doesn’t offer them.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    I’m surprised that so many posters are worried about the potential damage that might be caused by over revving the engine, selecting too low a gear or even selecting park. Remember this car was a loaner. I would have done all those things and pushed the brake pedal through the floor if I thought it would prevent me going through an intersection at 120 mph. Who cares about the mechanical damage? Does the ES350 have a handbrake? or a foot operated emergency brake? By the way, that “push the button for 3 seconds to stop” thing is crazy. Toyota should be ashamed of that idea.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    If it’s anything like the Audi case, then one might surmise that drivers are hitting the accelerator by mistake, and then compound the problem by flooring as they try to brake with the wrong pedal. That could be a matter of pedal sizing and placement, an ergonomic problem that facilitates driver error.

    Far more people two-foot the brake and accelerator when driving than is commonly realized, and a surprising number of people will, in a panic, simply jam down on one or more pedals without thought. Someone who does both (two-foots and panics) is an accident waiting to happen

    I have 14EEE feet and rare is the car that I can do this in, though I suppose you could consider it an ergonomic problem. I’m not sure how you’d get around it without spacing the pedals impractically far apart, and even then you’ve got those aforementioned two-footers to deal with.

  • avatar
    r_cardona68

    To me this accident is nothing more than lack of information. Most drivers are not in tune with their cars: it is just transportation. The main factor here was probably panic which is basically a situation out of your control. The first step in an engine runway situation, regardless of the cause, it to shift to neutral. DO NOT TURN THE ENGINE OFF!This will kill the power steering and power brakes! Once the vehicle has stopped, then turn the engine OFF. This poor soul had never thought about this emergency much like the number of accidents caused by improper foot wear which falls mainly to our flip flop shoe society. Remember, the brakes will not work in this case because of the engine power. Please spread the word to friends, family and everyone else. Good luck.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Ronnie, there are plenty of GM defenders who defend every seemingly minor misstep that TTAC mentions. Why can’t Toyota devotees do the same?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    By the way, that “push the button for 3 seconds to stop” thing is crazy. Toyota should be ashamed of that idea.

    Absolutely. Press the OFF button and she should go OFF. What person would expect any other mode of operation? I’m certain that BMWs and Lexus I’ve driven didn’t work that way – maybe it’s a combination. Is it different than in Australia/Europe? Can anyone verify that?

    It always seems strange to me that I’m required to have an immediate engine kill and battery isolation (plus extinguisher) switches in my track cars, but these aren’t necessary on road cars. Or at least the functionality – I don’t need a Big Red Button or one on the outside.

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    Where is the “emergency brake” in a Lexus ES350? Even if you can’t turn off the engine or remember to shift to neutral how about pulling up on the big friggen lever or pushing on the other friggen brake pedal?

    Oh and if this is one of those cars with a wimpy brake pedal so high off the floorboard that you can’t easily reach it while driving maybe it’s just a parking brake not an emergency brake.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    I wonder if he was afraid to downshift, or drop the tranny in to neutral because it was a Lexas loaner? Perhaps in part of his mind he was thinking “I can resolve this without incurring an expensive repair.”

  • avatar
    James2

    @dhanson,

    The last 2 generations of the ES (and I presume the Camry) has, in fact, the Superman of parking brake pedals. You need 1.5 feet to push that stiff sucker. As for the shift lever, it’s the Tiptronic style, only –curiously– Toyota swapped the direction you push the lever to go into manual mode, which is a ridiculous for the ES’ intended demographic (aka my parents).

    What probably didn’t help the unfortunate driver is that the ES is the anesthesia of automobiles. None of its controls convey the remotest of sensations.

    That person would be doubly auto illiterate if it chose the inferior Lexus ES350 (the only REAL, unique Lexus is the LS460) instead of the near-identical CAMRY one can get with equal levels of options for at least $5k less.

    @Autosavant

    Yeah, my parents are auto-illiterate, but the premium they KNOWINGLY paid (I keep reminding them) was for the presumably better customer service they get at the Lexus store. That and the more glamorous (ha!) nameplate, MUCH better interior (the Camry’s cabin is Corolla-grade and no amount of options can change that), and arguably better styling.

    I guess I should tell my folks about this recall, if the dealer hasn’t already contacted them.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    and all this time I thought that Toyota had Americans figured out….
    GOTCHA!

  • avatar
    Ronman

    I usually dont desrespect the dead, unless they are politicians. but, wouldnt a state tropper require a minimum IQ, or skill ability?

    if the lex he was driving accelerated to 180mph, and people inside the car had the time to panic, think, and make a phone call, i say the pedal had been stuck for a long while, not an instant. more than enough time to try to come up with a solution…like kick the pedal more than once in hope it releases, hit the brakes shift to neutral and get off the road safely and the over-rev cut off will take care of the engine….

    I don’t understand how some people get behind the wheel of a car with no notion on how to react in such a case. granted it’s a spook, it has happened to me twice first time on a moped (mat not involved), second time in a brand new car with after market all season mats, both times i reacted calmly and nothing happened, despite the fact i was 13 when it happened on 2 wheels.

    i say americans need a bit more expectation in their everyday life. like expecting shit to happen and learning how to deal with it on the fly.

    Captain Sullivan that landed a stricken airplane on the Hudson is one such role model to all Americans who cry out when a mat interferes in their driving, what would they do if they lost their brakes? think people think, airbags, seatbelts and DSTC is not a replacement for common sense and awareness.

    when we drive we exceed our bodies natural ability to cope, if we don’t know that fact, we’re dead people cruising…

  • avatar
    Areitu

    Toyota can’t be expected to test every aftermarket floormat in their cars. Judging by the picture at the beginning of this post, they’d do well to increase the distance between the bottom of the pedal and the floor.

    PeteMoran :
    September 30th, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Absolutely. Press the OFF button and she should go OFF. What person would expect any other mode of operation? I’m certain that BMWs and Lexus I’ve driven didn’t work that way – maybe it’s a combination. Is it different than in Australia/Europe? Can anyone verify that?

    It’s a power button, not an OFF button!

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ Areitu

    Yes, you’re right. Start/Stop on BMW, and …. I can’t even picture it on the completely keyless GS450h I had for three months.

    Thanks. Makes perfect sense don’t it?

  • avatar
    skaro

    Pch101-

    Yep I think brakes should always stop a car.

    But I’m wondering if anyone has ever tested this:

    Lexus driving already at 80mph California speed- guy tries to pass, floors pedal, pedal gets stuck. Very quickly, the overpowered car gets to 100, gas still floored.

    Breaking begins, driver gets the car to go back down to about 70 or 80 or so. Fading starts.

    After driver realizes he cannot figure out what is wrong and fix it, he tries more breaking.

    By now, breaks are faded and cannot hold against existing momentum+floored throttle.

    So perhaps, breaks cannot always stop car.

    I guess the question is, under full throttle, what percent of breaking power is used just to overcome the torque. If it is only like 5% then yeah, the breaks should always stop the car.

    But if it is more like 30% and they are already faded, I dunno..

  • avatar
    Mockingbird

    Four lives have been lost, over what should have been a fun outing. All would agree that this tragedy occurred needlessly. Very little public good is served in making judgments about the character and steed of the driver behind the wheel. None of us were there. We do not, and will never, understand the abject fear of the occupants in that vehicle; and how that would have crowded judgment.

    My initial reactions and questions were the same as everybody else’s:
    1. Why didn’t he put the car into neutral?
    2. Why didn’t he slam on the brake pedal and put his almighty weight on it till the car stopped?
    3. What about the emergency brake?
    4. Why didn’t he shut off the engine?
    5. How is it possible for a floor mat to jam the gas pedal into acceleration?

    Question #4 was quickly explained when I saw pictures of the set up. Questions #1. and #2. were rationalized on the basis of brain block in the face of panic and fear.

    And I started to wonder about #3 and #4. My Audi A4 has requires a push on the key to shut off the engine – when it is stationary – and has push button “handbrakes”. Have I ever thought that there is any chance that I may need to shut off the engine and use the push button to actuate the handbrake when the car is skipping along at 70 mph? Well – no! And I still haven’t tried either. Should I? Will they work? Will there be significant damage to the car? Would such abuse be covered by warranty?

    With the set up as in the picture, is it possible that when the mat slips all the way up the gas pedal, the following might result:

    1. The mat is now also sitting under the brake pedal, therefore, impeding maximum braking.
    2. The close proximity of the gas and brake pedals means that pushing on the brake pedal actually causes the mat to also push down on the gas pedal – thereby exacerbating the problem.


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