Toyota first acknowledged a sudden acceleration problem in September 2009, when it warned its customers to remove the floor mats from their vehicles because of the potential for them to trap the accelerator. In October it recalled 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the U.S. because of the floor mat issue. That recall was expanded to include a total of 4.2 million vehicles in November 2009. Finally, another 1.09 million models were added to the floor mat recall in January 2010.
The floor mat recall came after a highly-publicized accident involving the sudden acceleration of a 2009 Lexus ES 350 which took the lives of an off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer and three members of his family. As the vehicle sped out of control, the family desperately called 911, and they can be heard on the 911 tapes asking each other to pray only seconds before their deaths.
But even after that recall, Toyota and federal safety officials continued to receive reports of unintended acceleration and stuck pedals even in cases where the floor mats had been removed. One of the most serious incidents occurred just after Christmas, when four people were killed after the Toyota they were in sped out of control and crashed into a pond. Investigators found the vehicle’s floor mats had already been removed.
On January 21, 2010, the company recalled 2.3 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S. because the accelerator pedal can stick, causing unintended acceleration. The automaker maintained that the accelerator pedal issue was not related to the floor mat recall, although about 1.7 million of the vehicles are also involved in both recalls. Models involved are the 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, certain 2007-2010 Camrys, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia. A week later, Toyota suspended production and sales of those models, and the recall was expanded to include vehicles in China and Europe.
Even after it announced the January 2010 recalls, Toyota did not have a fix ready for the sudden acceleration problem. The company advised drivers who experience sudden acceleration to depress the brake firmly and steadily. The brakes should not be pumped repeatedly because it could deplete vacuum assist, requiring stronger brake pedal pressure. Drivers who have not had a problem should wait for the company to develop a remedy before visiting their dealer, Toyota said.
Since Toyota issued the January recall, complaints to the NHTSA involving Toyota vehicles and unintended acceleration have increased. The agency has now received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with Toyota and Lexus vehicles that involve 34 deaths and hundreds of accidents.