Toyota Recalls

Over the past several months, Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles because of defective floor mats, sticky gas pedals and bad brakes. All of these defects have the potential to cause serious injury and death. The safety problems and recalls have seriously damaged Toyota’s long-standing reputation for quality and reliability, and many Toyota owners have been wondering if their cars are safe to drive. Toyota owners have also incurred considerable expense and inconvenience because of these recalls.

Unintended Acceleration

By far the most serious Toyota safety issue has involved instances of dangerous, unintended acceleration. Sudden acceleration has been blamed for a number of accidents involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles. One of the most horrific occurred in August 2009, when a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family were killed in a high-speed traffic accident while driving a Lexus ES350. That accident was blamed on poorly fitting floor mats.

The August accident wasn’t the only fatal incident involving a Toyota vehicle and unintended acceleration. Between 2000 and the end of 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with Toyota and Lexus vehicles that involve 34 deaths and hundreds of accidents.

According to a Consumer Reports analysis of unintended acceleration complaints submitted prior to August 2009, consumers logged a total of 5,916 complaints for 2008 vehicles with the NHTSA. Of these, the agency received “166 cases in which the complaint described sustained unintended acceleration that the driver found difficult or impossible to control.” Toyota vehicles constituted 41 percent of the unintended acceleration complaints made to the agency. Ford vehicles came in second with 28 percent of complaints, and Chrysler was third with nine percent.

In September 2009, Toyota announced it was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle. The models involved in that recall were:

Toyota

  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2004-2009 Prius
  • 2005-2010 Tacoma
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2008-2010 Highlander
  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2009-2010 Venza
  • 2009-2010 Matrix

Lexus

  • 2006-2010 IS 250
  • 2006-2010 IS 350
  • 2007-2010 ES 350

But even after the floor mat recall, consumers were still complaining about incidents involving unintended acceleration, even in vehicles where the suspect floor mats had been removed. As a result, in January 2010, Toyota recalled eight vehicles ranging in model year from 2005 to 2010. In total, 4 .2 million cars worldwide — 2.3 million in the U.S. — were recalled. It also suspended sales of the eight models, and temporarily stopped production.

The models involved in the January recall were:

Toyota

  • 2009-2010 RAV4
  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • Certain 2007-2010 Camrys
  • 2010 Highlander
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia

This time, Toyota dealers will modify the accelerator pedals on the vehicles, which can stick, causing the unintended acceleration.

Prius and Lexus Hybrid Recall

In February 2010, Toyota announced yet another recall, this time for 400,000 hybrid vehicles, including the 2010 Prius and the Lexus HS250h, to fix their breaks. The recall came after the NHTSA announced that it had opened an investigation into the 2010 Prius relating to reports of momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over an uneven road surface, potholes or bumps. At the time the NHTSA said it had received 124 reports from consumers, including four reports alleging that crashes occurred. A week after the recall was issued, the NHTSA had logged about 1,000 more complaints including reports of 34 crashes and six injuries.

Toyota acknowledged that the braking system on third-generation Priuses had a design flaw, and that it had already corrected the brake problem for Prius models sold since late January. The mechanical parts that make up the brake system in the Lexus HS250h are identical to those in Toyota’s 2010 Prius, but the two gas-electric hybrid cars use different software systems to control the way the brakes are used.

What Can Toyota Owners Do?

While they wait for the accelerator pedal fix, Toyota owners who experience unintended acceleration while driving are being advised to apply steady pressure to the brakes and shift their cars into neutral in order to slow it down, and prevent it from speeding up. If they can’t get the car to shift into neutral, Toyota says drivers should turn off their vehicles by either pushing the Engine Start/Stop button down for three seconds or by turning the ignition key to the ACC position. Drivers with a traditional ignition should not remove the key, as this will lock the steering wheel.

Anyone who has had this experience in a Toyota vehicle should stop driving their cars and contact an authorized Toyota dealer to schedule a date and time to have it fixed at Toyota’s expense. Toyota owners whose vehicles are working properly should wait until they are notified by Toyota before scheduling a repair appointment.

Obviously, the potential for a serious accident as a result of unintended acceleration is the most serious issue facing owners of recalled Toyotas. Unfortunately, Toyota’s customers face other costs as well. The recalls, and Toyota’s damaged reputation, are already affecting the resale values of the recalled vehicles. Shortly after the January recall, The Kelley Blue Book, the used-auto pricing service used as a guide in private-party transactions, reported that values of Toyota vehicles had already suffered a loss of up to 3 percent of resale value.

Following the hybrid recalls, The Kelley Blue Book said it would adjust the New Car Blue Book transaction value of the 2010 Toyota Prius down by $1,000 to $1,500. It also dropped the used-car values of the Toyota Prius – 2009 and older models – by 1.5 percent.

The whole recall debacle has been a PR disaster for Toyota, and it is going to have to go a long way to regain the trust of many of its customers. In some cases, it may try to buy that trust back. Recently, The Detroit News reported that the automaker is going to give its U.S. dealers up to $75,000 to help that effort. Unfortunately, Toyota hasn’t given dealers any guidance on how to use that money. To that end, inconvenienced Toyota owners may want to ask dealers to reimburse them for towing, car rental fees and other expenses they have incurred as a result of the recalls.

Legal action is another option for Toyota owners. Already, U.S. customers have filed at least 41 class action lawsuits against Toyota, seeking damages that range from loss of car value to a return of profits. The company also faces 13 individual lawsuits claiming deaths or injuries caused by unwanted acceleration of vehicles.