Toyota's latest repairs

While the automaker offers up more creative fixes, a new report points to driver error in some crashes

Eugene Hoshiko/AP

First it was plastic zip ties. Now it’s a hacksaw and bubble wrap. The fixes for Toyota’s ongoing problem with sticky accelerator pedals, and the floor mats that can trap them, increasingly sound like something from an episode of MacGyver. A recent bulletin issued by General Motors to dealerships regarding the Pontiac Vibe—a mechanical twin of the Toyota Matrix—calls for mechanics to use a hacksaw to remove part of the pedal assembly as part of an operation to ensure that it doesn’t become stuck in a depressed position. According to the instructions, posted on automotive blog Jalopnik, the bubble wrap is apparently used to protect the pedal’s electronic sensors during the procedure.

Other fixes issued by Toyota, which has been forced to recall 8.5 million cars since 2009 amid driver reports of instances of “sudden unintended acceleration,” included using zip ties to secure floor mats to the floor and inserting a Chiclet-sized piece of steel into the accelerator pedal to prevent it from getting stuck in a partially depressed position.

The recalls and subsequent fixes have been an embarrassing—and expensive—headache for Toyota. In the United States, the company was slapped with a record US$16.4-million fine by regulators. Meanwhile, in Canada, a House of Commons standing committee has not yet delivered its findings on Toyota Canada’s handling of the floor-mat and pedal issues.

But the ongoing speculation about whether Toyota’s vehicles still suffer from a software bug that can cause its cars to go racing out of control is potentially even more damaging because it rattles consumer confidence in modern automobile technologies. The U.S. government’s investigation into some 3,000 reports of sudden unintended acceleration, which may be linked to the deaths of as many as 93 people, has yet to be completed.

However, a recent Wall Street Journal report suggested that the early findings point to driver error, not a computer glitch, in cases where floor mats or sticky pedals were ruled out. Sandy Di Felice, a spokesperson for Toyota Canada, declined to comment on the report, but it would seem to square with what Toyota has been saying publicly all along. If true, that would be a huge relief for customers who don’t want to see their cars reconditioned with more hardware-store products.

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