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Emergency trunk release fails on Lexus test cars

Consumer Reports News: October 12, 2012 06:08 AM

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Consumer Reports has found that the emergency interior trunk escape lever on the 2013 Lexus ES and GS can easily snap off during use, potentially leaving a trapped occupant without any way to escape.

From the 2002 model year on, all cars with trunks have included a trunk entrapment safety release that glows in the dark and allows a person to open the trunk lid from inside. This simple feature helps mitigate a rare but potentially tragic situation. And usually all it takes is a tug on the handle to open the lid.

While not a regular part of our test program, we have found, quite by accident, that the release on some Lexus models can easily snap off when used. And worse, it is impossible to escape from inside the trunk once the lever has snapped off. As the father of two young boys who love exploring every car I bring home and enjoy trying to fit into every small opening possible, this is of particular concern.

Lexus-Trunk-Release.jpgBoth my four- and eight-year-old boys already want to be car testers like Daddy and when they saw such a lever for the first time, they wanted to know what it was. I decided to tell them and explained how to use it if they ever needed to. Of course, they then insisted on "testing" it themselves while I stood by. When they have tried this before, the boys would easily find the release lever and promptly emerge triumphant. However, that was not their experience with our 2013 Lexus ES 350 test car. My 4-year-old's small hands snapped off the lever that opens the lid. He was not able to escape from the trunk until I opened it from the outside.

Consumer Reports owns two other Lexus sedans: the ES 300h and the GS 350. I tried the ES 300h myself and noticed that when the lever was pulled straight or toward the passenger side of the vehicle, it worked fine. However, when pulled toward the driver's side, the plastic surround acts as a fulcrum and snaps the emergency release handle off easily, preventing the trunk from opening. As shown in the video below, the Lexus GS 350 test car shares the same mechanism and fails in the same fashion. We spot checked many other vehicles in our testing program and did not find any with similar issues. Toyota shared that Lexus IS may use the same release design and be prone to the same problem; we were unable to confirm, as we don't have an IS in the fleet.

We have notified both Lexus and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about this problem.

The government safety agency said [it] "is aware of the issue and is evaluating available information to determine if additional action is warranted."

A representative from Toyota, which builds Lexus models, said, "Upon hearing the information from Consumer Reports, we immediately began investigating the durability and ergonomics of the emergency trunk release lever. This is an active investigation and we cannot provide more details at this time."

We hope a correction is quickly made on the impacted Lexus models. And if your kids are anything like mine, make sure you don't let them play in the trunk and that you leave your car locked when unoccupied.

Jake Fisher

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