June 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm

NHTSA investigates 360,000 Nissan cars for unintended acceleration

The 2014 Nissan Versa (MCT)

Washington — Federal safety investigators said Saturday they are opening an investigation into 360,000 Nissan cars over reports of unintended acceleration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said is opening an investigation into the 2012-2014 Nissan Versa after receiving four complaints that the the tunnel carpet cover trim pane has trapped the edge of the driver's shoe. The complaints said it “interfered with the driver's ability to reduce the rate of acceleration as desired and also interfered with the driver's ability to apply the brakes when needed.” A fifth complaint was filed by a driver in a foreign country.

A complaint filed June 9 said the driver’s foot was trapped by the trim panel that required them to use their right hand to grab their leg and pull up to get their foot free, almost causing a crash during the event. The complainant included a photograph showing how the edge of the panel wedged itself in the driver's work boot.

Another complaint said that when attempting to remove their foot from the accelerator pedal to apply the brake, their shoe was caught by the trim panel which delayed braking ability several times. Two of the four complainants said the vehicles were rental cars.

The investigation is another example of NHTSA moving quickly to open a formal investigation than in prior years — less than three weeks after the first new complaint related to the issue since February.

NHTSA has taken a big interest in unintended acceleration linked to floor mats or carpet in recent years.

Last month, Ford Motor Co. said it was recalling 82,500 driver's side all-weather Ford floor mats that may be in 2006-11 Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and MKZ cars. If improperly installed, the mats may come in contact with the accelerator pedal. Owners will be asked to return the mats for a new set.

NHTSA has been investigating the floor mat issue for four years. The agency said it had 52 reports of problems with floor mats in its investigation of 480,000 2008-10 Fusion, Milan and MKZ cars. After NHTSA told Ford it was recommending a recall, Ford opted to recall the vehicles.

NHTSA spent years investigating millions of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles for unintended acceleration issues linked to faulty floor mats and other issues. Toyota in 2009 bragged about initially saving $100 million by avoiding a mechanical fix and only recalling 55,000 floor mats —but later recalled millions of vehicles linked to the issue after four people were killed in crash linked to a trapped accelerator pedal by a floor mat.