Toyota to replace 4 million gas pedals that can get stuck

Toyota will begin replacing the potentially dangerous accelerator pedals in April; as a stopgap measure, dealerships will offer to shorten the gas pedals by about 3/4 of an inch beginning in January.

WASHINGTON — Toyota said Wednesday that it will replace accelerator pedals on more than 4 million recalled vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats, another blow to the reputation of the world's largest automaker.

As a stopgap measure, Toyota said dealers will offer to shorten the length of the gas pedals by about 3/4 of an inch beginning in January while the company develops replacement pedals for their vehicles.

New pedals will be installed by dealers on a rolling basis beginning in April, and some vehicles will have brake-override systems installed as a precaution.

Toyota announced the massive recall in September and told owners to remove the driver's-side floor mats to keep the gas pedal from becoming jammed.

Popular vehicles such as the Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are among those getting fixed. The recall also included the luxury Lexus ES350, the vehicle in a fiery fatal accident in California that focused public attention on the danger.

'The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern, and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified,' Toyota said in a statement.

Spokesman Irv Miller said the company was 'very, very confident that we have addressed this issue' with the new fix. Toyota has found 'no reason to believe that there is a problem with the electronic control systems,' he said.

Toyota officials said the floor mats are sold only in the U.S., and the recall would be limited to North America.

Toyota declined to provide a cost estimate for the fix, but analysts said it would be extremely expensive because of the extensive repairs involved and the manufacturing of new pedals.

Toyota also said it would provide newly designed replacement floor mats for the driver and front-passenger side.

The recall represents the latest blemish for Toyota, which developed a sterling reputation for quality in the United States by selling reliable family vehicles but faced challenges as it rapidly expanded.

While recalls do not always indicate diminished reliability, Toyota executives have expressed concern about large numbers of recalls, and have pushed for improved quality controls.

In a separate action, Toyota announced Tuesday that it would recall 110,000 Tundra trucks from the 2000-03 model years to address excessive rust on the vehicle's frame.

'Their reputation has taken a hit because the actual quality has taken a hit,' said Aaron Bragman, an automotive analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight. 'That's absolutely critical for Toyota to get that fixed because that's the central pillar that they've built their business on.'

The gas pedal recall is Toyota's largest in the United States and the sixth-largest ever in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The recall covers the 2007-10 model year Camry, 2005-10 Avalon, 2004-09 Prius, 2005-10 Tacoma, 2007-10 Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and 2006-10 Lexus IS250/350.

The NHTSA said 4.26 million vehicles would be covered, including new cars and trucks sold since September and others manufactured since the recall was announced.

It was prompted by a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family near San Diego.

The Lexus hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, struck a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames. In a frantic 911 call, a family member told emergency responders that the accelerator was stuck and the driver couldn't stop.

The NHTSA investigators determined that a rubber, all-weather floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, and could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal.

The government has attributed at least five deaths and two injuries to floor-mat-related unintended acceleration in the Toyota vehicles, and has received reports of more than 100 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck.