Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it will recall 3.8 million vehicles in the United States, the company's largest-ever U.S. recall, to address problems with a removable floor mat that could cause accelerators to get stuck and lead to a crash.
The recall will involve popular models such as the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid.
Toyota said it was still working with officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to find a remedy to fix the problem and said owners could be notified about the recall as early as next week. Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said until the company finds a fix, owners should take out the removable floor mat on the driver's side and not replace it.
"A stuck open accelerator pedal may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop a vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death," Miller said.
NHTSA said it had received reports of 102 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck on the Toyota vehicles involved. It was unclear how many led to crashes but the inquiry was prompted by a highspeed crash in August in California of a Lexus barreling out of control. As the vehicle hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, family members made a frantic 911 call and said the accelerator was stuck and they couldn't stop the vehicle.
"This is an urgent matter," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "For everyone's sake, we strongly urge owners of these vehicles to remove mats or other obstacles that could lead to unintended acceleration."
The recall will affect 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 Lexus IS250 and IS350.
Toyota's previously largest U.S. recall was about 900,000 vehicles in 2005 to fix a steering issue. The company declined to say how many complaints it had received about the accelerator issue.
The Japanese automaker warned owners that if they think their vehicle is accelerating out of control, they should check to see whether their floor mat is under the pedal. If a driver can't remove the floor mat, Toyota advises drivers to step on the brake pedal with both feet until the vehicle slows and then try to put it into neutral and switch the ignition to accessory power.
For vehicles with engine start/stop buttons, Toyota said the engine can be shut off by holding the button down for three seconds.
In the August incident near San Diego, the fiery crash of a 2009 Lexus ES 350 killed California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, 45, and three members of his family on State Route 125 in Santee. The runaway car was traveling at more than 120 mph when it hit a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames. One of the family members called police about a minute before the crash to report the vehicle had no brakes and the accelerator was stuck. The call ended with someone telling people in the car to hold on and pray, followed by a woman's scream.
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, something that could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal.
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the final report had not yet been submitted in the California case.
"We don't know what the actual cause was of that accident other than preliminary reports that have been published so it's impossible for us to comment on that particular incident," Hanson said.
In mid-September, Toyota ordered 1,400 Toyota and Lexus dealers nationwide to ensure that each new, used and loaner vehicles had the proper floor mats and that the mats were properly secured.
In September 2007, Toyota recalled an accessory all-weather floor mat sold for use in some 2007 and 2008 model year Lexus ES 350 and Toyota Camry vehicles because of similar problems.
For more information, consumers can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's hotline at (888) 327-4236, Toyota at (800) 331-4331 or Lexus at (800) 255-3987.