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Toyotas Involved in Most Sudden Acceleration Complaints

Dec 8, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Toyota Motor Corporation has been at the center of some intense controversy regarding unintended acceleration issues with some of its Toyota and Lexus brands. Now, the LA Times (Times) reports Toyota registered many more reports of sudden acceleration in its 2008 model-year vehicles than other carmakers, citing a new study.

Apparently, Toyota and Lexus vehicles received 41 percent of all consumer complaints registered to a federal database concerning such acceleration problems, said the Times, which noted that both vehicles ranked with more complaints than Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, and Nissan combined, citing analysis by Consumer Reports. The closest manufacturer with acceleration problems was Ford, which registered with 28 percent of the reports, said the Times. Toyota complaints totaled 52 in number, said Consumer Reports.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) logged the complaints which covered the 2008 model year, said the Times. According to Jeff Bartlett, deputy online automotive editor at Consumer Reports, "it says this is a very real problem.

Toyota recently announced it largest recall in history and that it will be replacing accelerator pedals on over four million recalled vehicles—from 2005 through 2010 model years—in the United States and Canada. The pedals, said the Associated Press (AP), can become stuck in floor mats. The NHTSA recently stated that the cars involved in the recall—Toyota and Lexus vehicles—contain an “underlying defect” that involves the cars’ accelerator pedal and driver’s side foot well, said the Times.

Toyota long maintained that the issue is with an “improperly installed floor mat,” but did finally issue the massive recall late this September, telling owners to remove the driver’s side floor mats to keep the gas pedal from becoming jammed.

The controversy was intensely fueled following a highly publicized, fatal crash on August 28 involving off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor (45); his wife, Cleofe (45); Mahala, their 13-year-old daughter; and Chris Lastrella (38), their brother-in-law; all four perished, said Detroit News previously. Details of the chilling accident that prompted the NHTSA to investigate the crash include the 2009 Lexus plummeting over an embankment and bursting into flames. The family was able to contact a 911 operator, saying they were unable to stop the ES 350; Lastrella advised the operator that the Lexus had no brakes. Most poignantly, the 911 tape, recently made public, included the family asking one another to pray at the recording’s end, just before their horrific deaths, said Detroit News.

Toyota blamed effects between floor mats and the acceleration pedal as causing the pedal to jam in a so-called “full-throttle position,” said the Times. Investigations into accidents have not confirmed this theory, said the Times. Nevertheless, a review conducted by the Times revealed that there were 19 deaths in sudden-acceleration accidents involving Toyotas since its 2002 model year, which is more that all the other carmakers combined. The Times also discovered that sudden acceleration complaints began rising after the car maker started replacing mechanical throttles with electronic throttle systems, which took place in the 2002 model year.

"It looks like the problem may be beyond floor mats," Bartlett said, quoted the Times.

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