Toyota has defended itself against claims that it was misleading about its floor mat-related unintended acceleration problem which may affect up to 3.8 million vehicles.

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On Monday, Toyota claimed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that “no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured”.

But the NHTSA said Toyota’s statement was “inaccurate and misleading”.

It said removing the floor mats “does not correct the underlying defect in the vehicles involving the potential for entrapment of the accelerator by floor mats, which is related to accelerator and floor pan design”.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson has since replied to the NHTSA, saying it was never its intention to provide misleading or inaccurate information.

“Toyota agrees with NHTSA’s position that the removal of the floor mats is an interim measure and that further vehicle-based action is required. We are in the process of developing vehicle-based remedies to help avoid the potential for an unsecured or incompatible floor mat to trap the accelerator pedal,” said Mr Hanson.

Toyota issued a warning to owners in September after the problem led to the deaths of four people in a Lexus in August.

It found that optional and aftermarket rubber floor mats placed on top of the standard mats could creep forward and jam the accelerator and brake pedals.

Mats that were too big for the vehicles or those not designed for the retaining hooks had the potential to become dangerous.

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Five Toyota models (including the Camry and Prius) and two more from Lexus were affected by the problem, one that both Toyota and the NHTSA have known about since March 2007.

The key message is that if the floor mats are not secured properly they can jam the accelerator.

The NHTSA is continuing investigations into possible design flaws with the cars.

by Tim Beissmann