Toyota Recall Has Pb-Free Critics in Overdrive

Are Toyota’s gas pedal failures caused by a breakdown in the electronics system? And if so, are the much-publicized recalls tied to a lead-free problem?

That’s been the hot topic on the TechNet email forum for over a week now. The mainstream media, of course, has gotten hold of the issue too, and is running with it like a Camry with a stuck gas pedal.

Here’s a list of some articles to date:

  • MSNBC is considering the likelihood of an issue with the electronics sensors.
  • The Los Angeles Times notes that the electronic throttle system uses sensors, microprocessors and electric motors, rather than a traditional link such as a steel cable.
  • AOL Autos and Autoblog look at a recalled pedal and discuss how possible sources of the problems.

Bob Landman, a reliability expert and a Life Senior Member of IEEE, has been vocal that the connection between lead-free solder and tin whiskers is both real and potentially deadly.  He asserts “the increased use of electronics in automobiles when mixed with RoHS can make for a deadly cocktail. We don’t know what the causative agent [in regards to the Toyota recalls] was, but I have heard recently of brand new autos showing up at dealers that will not start.  That cause has been linked to tin whiskers.”

We do not yet have enough information to determine whether tin whiskers or even lead-free solders are to blame. One would hope Toyota would come clean about the true cause, if indeed it can be determined, so that the industry at large can learn from their mistakes.

UPDATE: Toyota today stated the cause was not electronic in nature.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

3 thoughts on “Toyota Recall Has Pb-Free Critics in Overdrive

  1. Face it folks, the lead-free canard is as environmentally sound as ethanol from corn or regulation dealing with supposed anthropogenic caused global warming. We have pretentious regulators and intellects making decisions that are based more on pseudo science than the real thing. (Remember the children’s tale of the emperor and his new clothes?) Here is an idea, lets recycle and then lead in electronics (and other heavy metals) is a non-issue….oh thats right… that makes sense…..

    I hate to say this, but its going to take people deaths to make this whole lead-free effort go away…

  2. Could this be an issue with Toyota’s suppliers cutting costs without Toyota’s knowledge? The Toyota specification could require a higher grade of lead-free components than were delivered.

  3. Holy cow. I googled “toyota recall rohs” and found so many articles like this. The pedal sensor is assembled with traditional SnPB 63/37 solder. I know this because I work for the company that does the assembly.

    I want to be clear: Pb-free solders are not to blame here. I also want to be clear in that I hate the RoHS initiative. The whole “get the lead out of electronics” business is a bad deal for everyone!

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