Remember when Toyota was struggling with issues over sticky gas pedals and then payed $1.2 billion to avoid prosecution for covering up severe safety problems? Those were dark days for both driver and manufacturer, and now it might be Nissan’s turn for a healthy amount of recalls over accelerator issues.
The Detroit News reports that Nissan North America is recalling around 300,000 small cars after concerns were raised that a trim panel near the gas pedal could trap a driver’s foot, thus leading to either unwanted acceleration or delayed braking. This recall covers 298,747 2012-15 Nissan Versa subcompact cars and some 2014-15 Versa Notes, and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), beginning in mid-October Nissan dealers will start modifying the interior trim in question so that it no longer poses a threat.
This isn’t just some sudden “Oh my god” moment where Nissan suddenly realized that its compact cars were threatening our accelerators — this recall is over a year in the making with an NHTSA agency investigation kicking everything off after it received a small number of complaints about the issue back in 2014. Initially, Nissan brushed it off, telling NHTSA that there were no reported accidents relating to a trim panel trapping a driver’s foot, and that there were no warranty claims for said issue.
Nevertheless, there were still a handful of complaints out there and according to NHTSA’s investigation, while the amount of complaints filed only equaled 0.0031% of the number of Versas produced, additional complaints kept pouring in. Drivers were consistently getting trapped by their own trim panels, and as soon as a crash occurred in which the driver sustained minor injuries, the gloves came off and a full-blown investigation was ordered.
In order to offset some of this pressure, Nissan began a service campaign in April to raise awareness that these trim panels needed modification, all while maintaining its position that it did not consider the issue to be a safety defect. But very few people brought their cars in for amendment, and by June the NHTSA had seen enough and elevated its investigation to such a point that Nissan would reclassify this problem as a “formal recall.”
This issue is one of two that the Japan-based automaker has run into as of late, with an ongoing probe into seat sensors by the NHTSA at the forefront. Labeled as a separate problem, this investigation involves both Nissan and Infiniti models and pertains to faulty sensors that could possibly prevent passenger-side airbags in the front from deploying properly.
Thus far the investigation covers nearly a million Nissan Altimas, Pathfinders, Sentras, and Leafs from 2013-2014, the 2013 Infiniti JX35, the 2014 Infiniti QX60 and Q50, and 2013 Nissan NV 200, as well as a slew of Taxi vehicles.
Nissan claims that faulty software code in the “occupant classification system,” which controls airbag deployment based on the size of the person riding shotgun, may not read the weight of the passenger and deactivate the airbag. To date the NHTSA and Nissan have received 1,271 complaints about the problem, and thankfully only one injury has been reported. Most of the complaints state that the passenger airbag indicator light says that the airbag is deactivated, even when someone is clearly sitting in the seat, and that problems persist even after dealers attempt to fix it.
Hopefully Nissan doesn’t run into a similar issue that Ford did a few months back, where a few thousand complaints opened the floodgates to over 747,000 recalls over safety concerns. While the airbag issue appears to be a bit of a complex affair, the plastic trim recall seems to be a pretty simple fix for the automaker, which makes one wonder if preserving their reputation was a factor here, or if brushing it off as “no big deal” was just a way of saying “we’ll get to this later.” Either way it is news now, and hopefully this slight misstep can be amended in no time so that Nissan drivers can get back to worrying about other things, like attending that weekend’s running of the 24 Hours of LeMons.