Our client contacted us to inspect and photograph their insured’s 2000 Toyota 4Runner which was recently involved in an accident. The driver said that the brakes failed, which caused them to crash. The vehicle had brake work done 7 months earlier, so we were asked to identify any conditions or defects in the brake or throttle systems, which could have caused or contributed to the accident and to research recalls for the vehicle.
The vehicle was inspected two weeks after the date of loss. The driver and passenger air bags were both deployed. The vehicle sustained major damage to the left front fender, front bumper, frame, radiator, and radiator support. The damage was severe, but it did not prevent a brief operation of the engine to check the performance of the brake and throttle systems.
The throttle system on this particular vehicle was cable-operated from the accelerator to the engine. The accelerator pedal had a return spring mounted on the assembly that was mounted to the firewall inside the vehicle. This spring was in good condition and functioned properly. The accelerator was depressed fifteen times, and, at all times, the pedal returned to the idle position. The engine was started and allowed to run. The accelerator was depressed five times, and, at all times, the engine speed decreased to idle speed when the accelerator was released. The floor mats were also checked and were not an issue.
The air intake at the throttle body located on the engine was removed to check for debris in the throttle body area. No debris was found in the air intake tube, and the throttle valve opened and closed properly. The throttle spring on the throttle body was in good condition and functioned properly at all times during this inspection.
The transmission was shifted into the “drive” position with the brake pedal depressed. The accelerator was depressed fully, and the engine rpm increased to 2,000 rpm. The vehicle remained in a stationary position, indicating that the brake system functioned properly.
The right front wheel was removed to check the thickness of the brake rotors and the brake pads. The rotor was .832 inch in thickness; minimum allowable rotor thickness was .787 inch. The front outer brake pad had .344 of friction material remaining, which was above the minimum thickness. No fluid leaks were found at the master cylinder or at any of the four wheel cylinder locations. The fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir was above the minimum line and was clean in appearance.
The brake service that occurred seven months before the accident was performed properly, and no defects of workmanship were found that could have contributed to the accident.
All related components of the throttle system and brake system were in good condition and no defects were found that could have caused or contributed to this accident.
A search for recalls and complaints was performed using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, and no recalls were found for this particular make, model, and year of vehicle regarding the brake or throttle systems.
The distance between the brake and accelerator pedals was 2.625 inches. Commonly this distance is 3 inches and above. The most likely cause of the accident was accidental contact with the accelerator pedal. The wear mark on the brake pedal was on the right edge, indicating the driver’s foot regularly depressed the brake pedal on the right corner, with a portion of the shoe only a short distance from the accelerator pedal. In an instant of inattentiveness, it would be easy to slip off the brake pedal and onto the accelerator.
As bad as the 4Runner’s loss was, the story gets worse. The 4Runner rear-ended a Mercedes-Benz, which then rear-ended the Infiniti in front of it. The Infiniti was pushed into yet another Mercedes-Benz in front of it.
That was an expensive accident.