Are there new cars that have relatively even pedal heights?
March 31, 2013 6:42 PM   Subscribe

We need to get a new car where the brake pedal and the gas pedal are approximately the same height. We're located in the US. So far almost all of the cars we've tried have a rather substantial height difference between the brake and the gas (some as much as 2"). I'm looking for within 1/2" difference. Does anyone know of a late model cars that have a small difference in pedal height?

My wife needs a new car. About a year ago she had surgery and her right ankle and unfortunately developed arthritis in that ankle. She finds it painful to lift her foot so much when pivoting between the break and the gas pedal. She has her doctor's clearance to drive and she's been driving my '99 Camry without issue (the pedals are about even).

I'm flexible on price, though I would prefer to stay between $20k and $30k.

We started going to dealerships this weekend to try out new cars. So far we've been to see Fords and Chevys. Every Ford she sat in (Focus, Fusion, Escape - both a 2013 and a used 2011, and Edge) had the height difference problem. The Chevy's (Malibu and Impala) were the same problem with one major exception: The 2013 Chevy Volt had pedals that were essentially even. We test drove it and it worked wonderfully for her. The downsides are that it is tiny, it doesn't have power seats (she also is recovering from two herniated discs from a fall she took during recovery from the ankle surgery), and it has a sticker of nearly $45k (GM isn't supporting the price as much as they were with the 2012s and while the gas savings are big, they're not big enough to make up the difference).

We're going to look at Honda's and Subaru's tomorrow. A 2009 Camry we tried had the height difference problem, so I suspect Toyota's won't work either.

I know the pedal height difference is done as a safety precaution, but after we drove the Volt I also know that not all new cars do this.

I also know that its possible to have accessibility shops (places that do hand controls and things like that) build up the gas pedal for her, but I rather get a car that works without modification.
posted by NormieP to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
Would it be possible (and safe) to put a block on the lower pedal? A cousin of mine was rather short and had trouble reaching both pedals, so her dad put blocks on the pedals. I was kind of young at the time so I don't have a lot of details, but I remember looking at the pedals and they really did just seem to have blocks of wood built onto them.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:09 PM on March 31, 2013

if you are getting an automatic (almost certainly noting the limitations) there is nothing wrong with your wife learning how to brake with her left foot. One of the reasons this is considered bad is a holdover from the days when manual transmission cars were the norm. It can also present a problem with pressing the gas and brake at the same time, but on modern cars the brakes are usually about 2-3 times as powerful as the engine and can easily stop the car even when the accelerator is floored. The only thing to make sure you don't do when left foot braking is to not keep your left foot resting on the brake pedal. I realize this may not help since she may have the same problem lifting her left foot onto the brake pedal. However it is easier and safer to build up the 'dead' pedal on the left that most cars have than to modify the gas pedal, and that way she would have the same pedal height for her left foot.

As for actual car suggestions I don't really have any since that is not something that I look for. A lot of 'sporty' cars have a close match in pedal heights since that allows a driver to use a technique called Heel and toeing, so something like a civic si or Infiniti G37 (sedan or coupe) or the Lexus IS series might be worth a look and are pretty good family cars really. I bet most crossover SUV type vehicles are NOT going to have an even pedal height.
posted by bartonlong at 7:15 PM on March 31, 2013

I know you're looking for a car requiring no modifications, but it seems like all the "modification" you need for this is a piece of 2x4 and two zip ties. It seems silly to possibly spend thousands more or get a car you otherwise don't like to avoid such a trivial change. Are you sure you don't just want to attach a block to the top of the lower pedal?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:34 PM on March 31, 2013

It can also present a problem with pressing the gas and brake at the same time, but on modern cars the brakes are usually about 2-3 times as powerful as the engine and can easily stop the car even when the accelerator is floored

In a panic situation, the fact that you can stop is much less interesting than stopping distance. Furthermore, you confuse the natural signaling of the car (brakes meaning decelerating).

Please do not drive this way.
posted by rr at 7:45 PM on March 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would strongly suggest buying a car that fits all of your other needs, and having it modified after the fact. The pedals themselves are just levers, and can be easily modified by a skilled craftsperson. For the difference in price between your ideal car and what's commercially available, you could have many custom modified pedals.

It might be as simple as a self-adhesive rubber pad.
posted by fake at 7:58 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please do not drive this way.

There is nothing at all wrong with learning to drive an automatic using both feet (accel right, brake left). None at all. I was going to suggest this as an option when I came into this thread - the idea of having to spend thousands of dollars on a car you don't ideally want just for pedal heights is ridiculous.

Furthermore, you confuse the natural signaling of the car (brakes meaning decelerating).

I cannot even understand what this means.

Relearning to drive an auto with both feet is a significant relearning experience, however, so bear that in mind. But it is perfectly doable and perfectly safe if you learn to do it and retrain the muscle memory accordingly.

However, what is by far the best solution is to choose the car you like best and have the pedals modified to suit your requirements. This should be relatively straightforward. Any company that performs disabled modifications to cars or any modification shop (from race shop to drag race shop to full custom car company) will be able to do this safely and reliably for a much smaller fee than the difference between your optimum car vs the car that just has the pedal box that suits you.

In short. Do NOT choose a car based on pedal position. It is a minor, MINOR modification by someone with relatively basic skills to accommodate. It will also not invalidate your warranty, especially if you speak to the dealer when you get it done. The pedals are easily changed, so choose the car you want and then speak to people that can change the pedal positions to suit you better.
posted by Brockles at 8:00 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: fake, brokles, etc.: Yeah, that's probably what's going to happen (although this is not a DIY fix, I'll have the accessibility shop do it).

That said, I really would like to know what does fit the pedal criteria.
posted by NormieP at 8:07 PM on March 31, 2013

At any auto-parts store they'll have quite a few selections of pedal covers. Metal covers that are held in place by screws. So, they aren't likely to come off (and won't come off easily.) They can be 0.5 inches thick (or more if you shop for particularly large/exaggerated versions) and could solve your problem. You simply attach only the one on the relatively lowered pedal.

That would be safer than a wood block, and not permanent (which may not be a huge concern).

Like this.

Apparently, there are some with adjustable heights.
posted by oddman at 8:50 PM on March 31, 2013

Furthermore, you confuse the natural signaling of the car (brakes meaning decelerating).

I cannot even understand what this means

My interpretation: If a guy is using his left foot on the brake, there's a chance that he'll just leave it there, which leads to the chance that the guy's brake lights are on all the time, which means when I'm following that guy I have a harder time figuring out if he's slowing down.
posted by chazlarson at 8:49 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most car pedals have a little freeplay in them and you can adjust the heights slightly or even swap out pedal or get a mechanical friend to do it for you if you're not car minded, though it's pretty easy to do. I have trouble lifting my feet up high in a seated position and mostly drive manual/stick shift cars and often have the various pedals adjusted. Just an idea as I've never bought a new car in the US, but talk to the dealers maybe before you buy, they might be willing to throw the adjustment into the sale price and get one of their own mechanics to do it.
posted by wwax at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2013

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