At the end of June, Toyota announced another floor mat-related recall for Lexus–this time for 154,000 model year 2010 Lexus RX350 and RX450 H vehicles. Strangely, Toyota just can’t seem to figure out how to keep floor mats from getting caught in accelerator pedals and causing unintended acceleration. This is the automaker’s 11th recall for this same type of issue.
Or is there a deeper problem here that Toyota’s not openly addressing? Perhaps so. Safety Research & Strategies has noticed a troubling pattern in consumer reports of unintended acceleration in their Lexuses models: Many drivers have reported that the brake malfunction light on the dashboard has come on during an unintended acceleration. Testimonials like the following suggest that the problem is a lot more complicated than a floor mat getting stuck in the accelerator pedal:
ODI 10445439, reported to NHTSA last October:
On Oct. 5, 2011 at 7:45 am, I was traveling on a one lane road each way in rural Connecticut (35 mph zone). I decided to pass a car that was traveling well below the speed limit when my Lexus RX350 lurched forward suddenly and then had a huge burst of accelerating speed. I applied my foot to the brakes and the car slowed very slightly, but started to buck a little and then once again felt like it kicked into a higher gear. My dashboard was flashing “brake failure.” (…) I stopped looking at my speed, but it was clearly in excess of 60 mph in a 35 mph zone. I was lucky that day, since there were few cars on the road and the stretch of road I was on was fairly straight. I drove this way for about 1.5 miles when it then occurred to me to shift the car into neutral. Once I did this, the car eventually reduced speed to about 5-10 mph. I threw the car into park and jumped out of the vehicle, which at this point was engulfed in smoke from the failed brakes. Lexus blamed the incident on a stuck accelerator pad, although they admitted when the car came to their shop the pad was not stuck. I know factually that the pad was not stuck, since I looked down at my feet during the episode and saw my foot on the brake, and the accelerator pad in its normal position. This was clearly an incident of sudden acceleration.
Or ODI 10445422, concerning a January 25 UA:
“I went out to grab a bite to eat for my daughter and I came to a stop light at a major intersection. I received the turn arrow so I accelerated thru the turn and then punched the gas to make it thru the next light that will turn red if you don’t give it a little gas to get thru it. I make it thru the light and get in the right lane to slow down to make my turn and my brakes don’t work and my car starts accelerating on its own. I have no control of the speed so I throw the car in neutral and keep slamming the brakes while the brake malfunction light appears. I’m not sure how my car slows down and I make a right turn into a parking lot and my engine is still sounding like it is accelerating and I am in neutral. My car rolled to a stop, I shut it down and called the Lexus line. The [sic] had a towing company out within an hour and the tow truck driver told me this is at least the 10th time he has hauled this type of car for the same thing.”
Or ODI 10411637, which happened a year ago:
On 7/1/2011 at 10.45pm. I was driving my Lexus 2010 RX350 eastbound on the lie [sic] service road in Glen Cove, NY. I was travelling at 35 to 45 mph, when suddenly my “brake malfunction light” started flashing on my dashboard. I instinctively tapped the brake, and the brakes did not respond. Then the car had unintended acceleration. I then pressed on the brakes with all my might, to stop this vehicle careering off the road. With God’s grace I was able to stop the car by downshifting gears. This is the first time I have experienced this life-threatening problem. So far Lexus have discredited this experience, by claiming the mat was stuck under the accelerator and or brake. I strongly and vehemently disagree with their evaluation and analysis. –Safety Research & Strategies
The presence of the brake malfunction light in all of these cases does indeed indicate that something a lot deeper is going on than simple floor mat entrapment—something caused by the internal electronics of the vehicle. Until Toyota acknowledges this and takes real steps to address the problem, we can’t be confident that unintended acceleration won’t keep happening. If you have experienced an event like the ones described above, please report it to NHTSA immediately.