Toyota just got fined $17.35 m over floor mats

The auto-industry's top five biggest little mistakes.

Toyota has just sustained a whopping fine for not recalling a faulty product in time - these products being floor mats. The company has agreed to pay $17.35 m to the US government over concerns that a loose mat could press down on the accelerator pedal - involving the recall of 154,036 vehicles from 2010.

It's not the only car manufacturer to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of floor mat: here are four more of the auto-industry's biggest mistakes, via Investopedia:

1. The Ford failed safety catch of 1980

A little safety defect in Ford's transmission system meant that cars built between 1976 and 1980 could slip wilfully from "Park" to "Reverse". The resulting 6,000 accidents, 1,700 injuries and 98 deaths meant the recall of 21m vehicles and the loss of $1.7 bn.

2. The Takata seatbelt button of 1995.

The company had to recall 8.3 million vehicles after the button on the seatbelt was found prone to jam. By this time most auto-manufacturers were using these seatbelts, causing 931 consumer complaints as drivers got stuck in their seats. Estimated cost: $1 bn.

3. The Ford cruise control switch of 1996

There's a little electronic switch which deactivates cruise control after the  brakes are put on. This was faulty in Ford vehicles - starting fires. The company had to recall 14 million vehicles, costing them $280 m.

4. The Ford ignition ignition of 1996

1988-1993 models of Ford cars had switches which short-circuited, leading to fires, sometimes even when the car was turned off. The bill came to $200 m.

Toyota gets a whopping fine. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.