Toyota announced today a recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including all Priuses made from 2005 to 2010, because it says the cars have floor mats that can catch the accelerator and cause a crash.
It's the largest recall from Toyota and the first real knock from the company against the Prius. Two years ago Toyota issued a similar recall, but Prius owners were simply cautioned to make sure the floor mats were properly installed.
The recall was prompted by an August 28 crash in California that killed four people in a Lexus, including a California Highway Patrol officer and a 13-year-old girl. A 911 made from someone inside the car revealed that the Lexus sped up and wouldn't stop, eventually hitting another car and crashing.
The New Times Broward-Palm Beach wrote about unintended acceleration in an April cover story, "Wild Rides." In almost all the incidents we covered, none of the drivers believed the floor mat was the cause of the problem. But some Pruis fans claim that unintended acceleration is not physically possible without driver error.
For example, one Prius owner wrote in response to the story, "There is not a car today that you can not stop with the brake system that it was built with."
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The highly publicized crash in California calls that theory into question, considering witnesses reported seeing the tires on fire before the crash, and "the preliminary investigation says the flames suggest constant, heavy braking." Furthermore, we received an e-mail from a Prius owner last week who had another tale of unintended acceleration.
From the e-mail:
Luckily there was nothing in front of me, so I had time to hit the power button when the brakes had NO EFFECT on the acceleration. I am reading that people say that is impossible...but it is exactly what happened. The car suddenly behaved like I was flooring the gas pedal...
And if the woman is to be believed, a recall of floor mats wouldn't have helped:
I hit the power button and the car came to a stop. I was very shaken. I immediately checked to see if the mat was in the way of the pedal some how...but it was nowhere near the pedal. I will not get behind the wheel of my Prius again.
-- Paul Knight