Toyota Fixes Pedals, But Upgrading Computers Would Have Been Better

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First reported in Japanese newspapers (and now on Reuters and it looks as if Toyota is voluntarily recalling nearly 3.8 million cars and trucks in order to fix and/or replace the accelerator pedals. If this is indeed the official “fix” (Toyota has yet to announce this formally), it’s a bit disappointing.

Since many Toyota vehicles have electronic throttle controls, a software upgrade to the engine management system would cure this issue. A software upgrade that prevents a vehicle from operating at full throttle whenever the brake is depressed would almost completely eliminate the possibility that a vehicle could careen out of control because of a stuck throttle. Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz vehicles with electronic throttles already have this feature – it’s called a “brake to idle failsafe” – but Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles do not.

Toyota's gas pedal "fix" isn't the best solution for preventing run-away throttles.

Toyota's gas pedal "fix" isn't the best solution for preventing run-away throttles.

New gas pedals are probably a cheaper “solution” to this problem, but they’re not the best way to solve the problem.

As you probably know, this all started when Toyota issued a voluntary floor mat recall in late September, 2009 asking owners to remove their driver’s side floor mats pending a more permanent fix. This voluntary recall was in response to a tragic accident involving an out-of-control Lexus that killed four people.

The Lexus that crashed was a loaner car provided by a California Lexus dealership. After a comprehensive investigation, NHTSA concluded that this accident was caused by an over-sized floor mat that interfered with the gas pedal. The floor mat (which was the actual cause of the problem) was not designed for the Lexus it was installed in, nor was it secured. While this accident was tragic, it was NOT a result of a design flaw. It was simply the wrong floor mat.

Nonetheless, NHTSA and/or Toyota have decided to make some sort of change to the design of the gas pedal. Perhaps there is evidence of a more severe problem, or perhaps Toyota feels this is the best way to resolve this issue with the public. While there’s no reason NOT to change the gas pedal design (it’s probably reduces the possibility of a stuck pedal), changing the engine computer software seems like a much better fix. After all, the notorious Lexus loaner car accident wasn’t caused by a poor gas pedal design. There were a number of factors at work:

  1. The driver’s floor mats (one on top of another) were too large. It’s certainly possible a smaller pedal would have helped, but the news reported there were TWO floor mats installed, one of which was a big rubber all-weather mat designed for an SUV. Pedal size might not have mattered at all in this particular case.
  2. The driver was unfamiliar with the vehicle he was driving (he didn’t know how to shut it off, nor how to put the vehicle in neutral).
  3. The driver was in a state of panic.

In all likelihood, none of these problems could have been prevented by a smaller gas pedal. However, ALL of these problems could have been prevented by a software fix that prevented the engine computer from allowing simultaneous brake and throttle inputs. There aren’t any normal driving scenarios where a vehicle’s electronically-controlled throttle should stay open while the brakes are being depressed (that’s a racing-only situation).

In Toyota’s defense, this was a freak accident that could have been prevented any number of ways. If the driver had been more familiar with the car he would have known how to shift into neutral and/or kill the engine. Had the dealership been more careful about the floor mats they used, the pedal might not ever have gotten stuck in the first place. Toyota really shouldn’t have to do anything here…but the negative publicity from this incident has led Toyota to take action.

However, if Toyota is really wants to fix this problem, why not update the engine computers? Toyota is famous for quality, yet this is a half-ass fix.

What do you think – is Toyota doing too much here or not enough?

Filed Under: Auto NewsTundra Recalls

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  1. mk says:

    Too much here because it was the dealers fault who installed the wrong floor mats in the Lexus that caused the problem, not the car itself. If toyota does mess with the gas pedal not being floored while stepping on the brake, how will I smoke my tires in my tundra when I want to???? Ha Ha!
    Please don’t even consider making the gas pedals smaller than they already are. My tundra gas pedal is very tiny and any smaller would probably cause more accidents since with such a small gas pedal, it is harder to regulate speed being so small with anything on your foot larger than a regular tennis shoe, say work boots or ice fishing/snow boots. I do remember the good old days when for example, in the 80’s/70’s on GM cars and others as well, the gas pedal was about twice the size they are now and almost came down to the floor. I did have one issue a longtime ago in my dad’s 1976 caprice classic with the crappy rubber floor mats getting jammed up underneath the huge gas pedal causing the car not to decelerate and luckily I pulled the rubber floor mats that bunched up under the pedal out really quickly before it caused any problems. Luckily, I was not near anyone. Speaking of that, I got reminders in the mail yesterday stating to secure or remove the floor mats in my 2010 tundra either carpet or rubber/all weather mats until a recall is announced later in the year of what Toyota will do to remedy the issue.
    Jason: Can you tell me why the future recall notice I got in the mail said the 2007-2009 Tundra all weather/rubber mats were NOT affected in the future recall while the 2010 tundra all weather/rubber mats were? Do the 2010 tundras NOT have the plastic holders holding the rubber mats in place like the 2007-2009 tundras or is the all weather mats design different in 2010 warranting a recall? It also said all carpet mats in the 2007-2010 tundra was included in a future recall. I’m confused on the all weather/rubber mats variation from 2007/09 to the 2010 tundras.

  2. Mickey says:

    2.The driver was unfamiliar with the vehicle he was driving (he didn

  3. TXTee says:

    I think this has been blown out of proportion. I also do NOT want my computer’s brain to be changed b/c of a tragic freak accident. There are too many other options to disabling a vehicle from taking off like that – even if unfamiliar with the vehicle. And like MK said, the pedal is already tiny. I sometimes drive in just my socks on a long trip and it’s easy to let your foot slide off the pedal. Making it even smaller is more dangerous!

  4. mk – Not sure about the 10′ floormats as opposed to 07/09. I agree wholeheartedly this situation has been blown completely out of proportion.
    Mickey – Agreed in regards to the guy who was driving the Lexus that crashed. Evidently, the car had the fancy column “paddle” shifters. No one in the media has said it, and I have no idea if it’s true, but the guy was coming back from a BBQ. Any chance alcohol was a factor? I doubt we’ll ever know, but it sure would explain a lot.
    TXTee – I think the computer upgrade would be pretty simple, but you’re right in that “fixing” the computer might actually cause additional problems. Same goes for smaller pedals. Another great example of making something “too” safe.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Baby steps. They couldn’t do floor mats right the first time so what makes you think they are ready to work on computers? I think its funny how the truck that is change everything can get floor mats correct. Do start with “its the operator error”, if it is you must have some of the most ignorant people on earth. Fix the computer that’s real funny!! If you want a real truck without all the drama check out a domestic, unless your a drama QUEEN. Floormats, frame rust, bed bounce, cam, paint, drive shafts, I can’t wait to see what’s next. Maybe the lipstick holder will have a issue. Who said somthing about “too safe”, sure all these issues are due to their improvement in safety. Good excuse!!!

  6. Mickey says:

    Hey anonymous who is the drama queen? Apparently you’re hiding and not showing a name. Now that you had your cheap shot how about manning up and show us how the great domestics do with their recalls! Need I list them for you? Why is it that Ford had to recall the recall on it’s F-150? All what you mention must be the same since most of the owners haven’t brought their truck in. Now who’s the fool anonymous? Need I do more just for you? Are you that lonely that you need attention? Here’s a tip for you. Tie that steak around your neck and your dog will be your friend.

  7. Anonymous – You said “If you want a real truck without all the drama check out a domestic,” but all trucks have issues. What do you call all of this?
    Spontaneous combustion – and
    Busted regulators and windows that fall into doors –
    Cracked dashes –
    Brakes that don’t stop –
    Of course, I can find lots and lots of anecdotes too. Here’s an example of a Chevy that dropped a transmission during long-term testing – – sort of dramatic, no?
    Bottom line – I’m sure you’ll believe what you’d like to, but the facts are that Toyota has problems just like everyone else.

  8. Scott says:

    I have had Toyota’s since I was 19, the original 86 SR5, a 99 and now a 2008 Tundra. I had Only one recall before this and I don’t consider this recall legit. I won’t be shrinking my gas pedal any time soon. I did install after market husky floor mats and took out the old. I examined the fit, how the pedal motion was effected and I have had no issues for over a year. My wifes vehichles both domestics and other foriegns have had issue after issue until she bought a Toyota Sienna. No company is perfect, but I will say Toyota is close to perfect for general reliability.

  9. Scott – Agreed. No one is perfect, but Toyota has a long history of being very, very good.

  10. Bob says:

    Part of the recall is re-flashing the computer and adding a brake overide system as someone stated above. All Toyota hybrids already have it built in (always have). By the end of 2010, all Toyota vehicles will have it standard.

  11. Mark Burks says:

    I take exception to the position that simultaneous use of brake and throttle is “a racing-only scenario,” (and though admittedly non-expert,) I find myself opposed to the idea of programming that prevents this.
    Consider me a normal, or a near-normal driver. I certainly am not and never have been a race driver. Still there are several situations I encounter that I use both controls simultaneously (i.e. poor traction in pulling onto a roadway; very tight city driving where my use of brake and throttle OCCASIONALLY overlap.)
    I think if I encountered a vehicle that did not allow simultaneous throttle and brake inputs I would be unlikely ever to drive it a second time.

  12. Jason says:

    Bob – That’s only on some units, though, right? They’re not going to add brake-idle failsafe to all the effected units, just the Camry, Corolla, and some others, right?

    Mark – I suppose that you’re correct in that the scenario to use both brake and accelerator is *just* racing only. However, I disagree that using both pedals is normal. There isn’t a driver’s safety manual in the USA that recommends using both feet to control brake and throttle, and it’s a pretty neat trick to do it with one foot (my hat’s off to you if you manage that trick on a daily basis).

    Of course, we’ve all used both pedals when driving a vehicle with a clutch, but Toyota doesn’t seem to be offering many of those anymore. I’m not saying that what you’re doing is wrong or unsafe – I’m just saying it’s not very common.

    As for refusing to buy a car that has this feature, I anticipate you will be disappointed. Since almost all manufacturers use electronic throttle systems, I fully expect NHTSA to make this a new standard feature some time in the next few years. Anyways, thanks for commenting. I agree that it’s not a racing only situation, it’s probably about 95% racing (burn-outs are probably the main application, in fact).

  13. Roger D. VanZant says:

    There is a number on the gas pedal that identifies where it was made , how do yoy find it??

  14. Jason says:

    Roger – I read somewhere that the Denso pedals (which are not under recall) have screws on the side, whereas the recalled pedal unit has big shiny plates. Hope that helps.

  15. […] added for a "just in case scenario" AND to help control the recall crisis to quiet down.…puter-upgrade/…-recall-right/ Sent using my iPhone with autocorrect […]

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