Concerns over floor mat issue prompt safety probe of some Ford models

Federal auto safety regulators have launched an investigation into whether floor mats in 2010 Ford Motor Co.'s Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans can entrap the gas pedal, causing unintended acceleration.

The investigation follows complaints of a similar nature that led to the recall of millions of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles in recent months.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is warning drivers of the Fusion and its Mercury version, the Milan, not to place any floor mats, whether made by Ford or an after-market retailer, on top of the standard, carpeted floor mat in the driver's-side foot well. Drivers should also make sure that their floor mats are secured to the floor and not stacked, the safety agency said.

Ford Motor Co. has built about 249,000 Fusion and Milan sedans. The Fusion is a rival to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord and is one of the nation's bestselling mid-sized sedans.

NHTSA said it has "verified three consumer complaints" about the problem. The incidents resulted when drivers laid Ford's optional rubber all-weather floor mat on top of the carpeted floor mat in the driver's-side foot well. If the rubber mat slips forward, it can trap the gas pedal in a down position.

"This is most likely to occur after the driver presses the accelerator pedal substantially such as when merging or passing in traffic," the agency said in a statement.

NHTSA said it has received no complaints involving crashes, injuries or fatalities.

Ford said it was cooperating with the federal safety agency. A company spokesman said the automaker was not aware of any complaints from drivers who installed their floor mats according to Ford's instructions.

"We do not recommend stacking floor mats in any vehicle," said the spokesman, Said Deep.

Ford places a warning on top of its rubber all-weather floor mats that says, "Do not place on top of existing floor mats," he said.

In addition, driver's-side floor mats manufactured by the company have an attachment to secure them in place to prevent them from sliding, Deep said.

Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at auto information company Edmunds.com, said he experienced the problem in a Fusion he was test driving.

Edmunds, who is not related to the family that founded Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com, said he noticed on a recent commute home in the test vehicle that a previous driver had stacked the floor mat in the driver's floor well. He drove home, intending to test in his driveway whether it would entrap the gas pedal, but never got to it. The next day, Edmunds jumped into the Fusion and drove to work.

While driving on the 405 Freeway, "I mashed the throttle to pass a slow-moving vehicle," but when he relaxed his foot, the car kept accelerating.

"Just as the Fusion bore down to within a couple car lengths of the car ahead, I heard a click down by my feet" as the pedal unjammed from the floor mat, he wrote on the auto information company's website.

"It all happened fast, and I didn't actually figure out what had happened until after it was over," he said. It happened again moments later.

NHTSA said drivers should pay more attention to the position of their floor mats, including how they are secured or whether they are stacked, regardless of the make or model of their vehicle.

The agency said that drivers who find their vehicle speeding up on its own should take the following steps:

• Brake firmly and steadily — do not pump the brake pedal.

• Shift the transmission into neutral. (Make sure you know in advance how to shift into neutral.)

• Steer to a safe place.

• Shut the engine off.

• Call your dealer or repair shop to pick up the vehicle. Do not drive it.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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