Toyota wrangles with regulator over floor mat recall

Toyota and the government are bickering about a floor mat safety warning, but they both agree on the solution: car owners should remove the mats.

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By Hibah Yousuf, CNNMoney.com staff reporter

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- What could have been a heated battle between Toyota and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in a game of "he said/she said" quickly cooled.

Last month, Toyota and NHTSA warned drivers to remove the mats in certain models or risk a forced-down accelerator pedal that could lead to a crash. Toyota plans a recall to fix the problem, and began sending notifications this week to Toyota and Lexus vehicle owners about the issue.

But the NHTSA took issue with how Toyota worded its warnings. The agency released a statement Wednesday accusing the world's largest automaker of sending a letter to owners with "inaccurate and misleading information."

Toyota's letter told owners that NHTSA said "no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver's floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured." The agency took those as fighting words: In its view, the vehicles have an underlying defect that means floor mats can't be properly secured.

NHTSA recommends that consumers remove the floor mats from affected cars to eliminate the risk that a mat will become stuck and trap the accelerator. But that is "simply an interim measure," the agency said. It won't consider the problem solved until Toyota comes up with "a suitable vehicle-based solution."

The standoff could have turned ugly, but when called out on the issue, Toyota backed down fast.

"Toyota agrees with NHTSA's position that the removal of floor mats is an interim measure and that further vehicle-based action is required," the company said in a statement released late Wednesday. "We are in the process of developing vehicle-based remedies."

Toyota has not yet launched an official recall campaign, but it plans to for the following models: 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma and 2007-2010 Tundra.

The Lexus models facing the safety recall are the 2007-2010 ES 350, and the 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS 350. To top of page

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