Toyota Fixes Pedals, But Upgrading Computers Would Have Been Better
First reported in Japanese newspapers (and now on Reuters and PickupTrucks.com) 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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?