Toyota recall Q & A: What to do if your car suddenly accelerates

Thousands of Toyota owners find themselves with autos that may not be as reliable as they had thought after the Japanese company halted production and sales of eight models because of a design flaw.

Here is what the automaker and consumer experts advise if you find that your gas pedal gets stuck and your car suddenly accelerates:

What’s the best defensive course of action for drivers who find themselves in a sudden-acceleration incident?

Consumer Reports magazine modeled such a scenario on its test track in East Haddam, Conn., last year after four people in suburban San Diego died in a sudden-acceleration incident involving a car from Toyota’s Lexus brand.

“Sudden acceleration can happen to any car, not just Toyotas, and it is important for people to realize that,” said Rik Paul, automotive editor of the magazine, a publication of Consumers Union, which is based in Yonkers, N.Y.

Test drivers found the most effective strategy was to hit the brake pedal hard and hold it.

Don’t start pumping or pounding on the brakes. That negates the vacuum assist and makes the brakes less effective. Toyota goes a step further. It advises stepping on the brake pedal with both feet, using firm and steady pressure.

After hitting the brakes, shift the transmission into neutral.

“We found that it is very hard to bring the car to a complete halt with just the brake pedal,” Paul said. “That’s why it is important to shift into neutral.”

After disengaging the engine, pull safely off the road, turn off the car and park it.

How can I be prepared?

Be sure you know how to get your car into neutral. This varies greatly by make and model and is not always intuitive. You want to know how to do this before you find yourself in an emergency situation.

People may be tempted to turn off the engine, but shifting into neutral is a better option. That’s because turning the engine off stops the power steering system and will make it harder to control the vehicle.

Still, if you can’t get it into neutral, don’t fool around. Shut the engine off.

But even this can be tricky if you are not prepared.

Toyota said if its vehicle is equipped with an “engine start/stop” button, you need to push the button firmly and steadily for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do not tap the start/stop button.

Other makers, however, use different on-and-off systems, so be sure you know how your vehicle works.

If your auto has a conventional key ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Don’t remove the key from the ignition because this will lock the steering wheel, and you won’t be able maneuver the car.

Is there some warning that lets me know my car has the problem?

Don’t expect any type of warning light on the dashboard. You might notice that the gas pedal is getting harder to depress over time or is sluggish when you ease off the throttle. Some drivers might notice a rough or “chatter"-like feeling depressing the accelerator, according to Toyota.

I think this might be happening to my vehicle. What should I do?

Toyota advises owners to drive the vehicle to the nearest safe location, shut off the engine and contact a Toyota dealer for assistance.

What’s wrong with the vehicles?

Toyota said the accelerator pedal on the affected models can stick in a partially depressed position. It also can be slow to rise back up when you ease off the gas. In addition, Toyota said, in some cases, vehicle floor mats can become entangled with the accelerator pedal, trapping it down.

Which models are affected by this latest warning and sales suspension?

Toyota said it stopped sales of the following models: 2009 and 2010 RAV4, 2009 and 2010 Corolla, 2009 and 2010 Matrix, 2005 to 2010 Avalon, 2010 Highlander, 2007 to 2010 Tundra and 2008 to 2010 Sequoia.

It also stopped sales of certain 2007 to 2010 Camry sedans, depending on where those vehicles were manufactured; Camry owners should check with their dealer to determine whether their car is affected.

What causes the problem?

Toyota said the accelerator pedals become worn over time. They develop friction, which causes the pedals to stick or return slowly after a driver removes pressure from the pedal.

I have heard a lot recently about Toyota products and sudden acceleration. Is there more to this?

This has been a troublesome issue for the auto company. Tuesday’s move to stop production on eight vehicles follows two recent recalls aimed at preventing Toyota-made vehicles from surging out of control, a problem that has been blamed in at least 19 deaths and scores of injuries over the last decade -- more than for all other automakers combined.

The sales freeze comes less than a week after the automaker said it would recall 2.3 million cars and trucks because of the same problem. And that recall followed the initial recall of 4.3 million vehicles, Toyota’s largest ever, because floor mats could trap the gas pedal and cause sudden acceleration. Most of the vehicles targeted in last week’s recall were also included in the previous one.

Some auto experts believe a portion of the cases might be the result of problems in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system. Toyota, however, believes it is a mechanical rather than an electronic issue.

What is Toyota doing to fix the pedal issue?

The automaker says it is working on a fix but hasn’t disclosed the details or timing of the remedy.

What should I do if I have questions?

Call the Toyota Customer Experience Center at (800) 331-4331.