In late 2009, Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems became international headline news. But Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems have persisted for more than a decade. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered Toyota to recall vehicles as early as 1986 because of speed control issues. Toyota’s current generation of problems began in 2002 when Toyota notified its dealers that some Camry models could experience engine surging, which required electronic calibration to repair the problem. In 2003, the Toyota Sienna was the subject of internal communications that dealt with an “unwanted acceleration” incident that occurred during testing. Toyota reported the incident to NHTSA five years later, thus establishing a pattern of deception that has continued to the present. The current cover-up at Toyota has caused the deaths of at least 56 people and hundreds more have been injured, as consumers were uninformed about the safety issues that have plagued Toyota.
Some safety experts claim that Toyota does not know how to fix the current sudden acceleration problem. Instead, the company has blamed drivers for pressing the accelerator instead of the brake. They also blamed floor mats for entrapping gas pedals, and then later claimed that gas pedals were sticking, not returning to idle position. Data shows that Toyota’s unwanted acceleration problems began in 2002 with the introduction of electronic throttle controls. Complaints of sudden acceleration rose by 500% after Toyota incorporated these systems into their vehicles.
Although the cause(s) of Toyota’s acceleration problems may never be fully disclosed, the solution is easy and inexpensive: install the “smart pedal.” The “smart pedal” has been used for over ten years by Chrysler, Nissan, BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz and costs as little as $1.00 per vehicle. This technology works simply: if a driver inadvertently applies both the accelerator and brake simultaneously or if an electronic malfunction occurs which mimics this situation, the engine automatically shifts into idle, permitting the driver to slow and come to a stop. Toyota says it will begin using this technology in its 2011 models.
Unfortunately, Toyota has gone great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for its mistakes by attacking the research and tests of David Gilbert, an Automotive Technology Professor at Southern Illinois University. While Toyota claimed that their systems could not cause sudden acceleration, Gilbert’s tests showed the opposite: Toyota’s electronic systems could fail to prevent sudden acceleration in certain instances. Toyota told the United States Congress that they would work with Dr. Gilbert, but instead hired Exponent, a research firm, to refute the professor’s findings.
Toyota has refused to accept responsibility for its acceleration problems for years. Rather than addressing this significant safety issue by finding solutions, the company has focused on avoiding safety recalls. Toyota hired investigators away from NHSTA in an effort to stall or shut down NHTSA investigations. Internal documents at Toyota show that the company saved more than $100 million by avoiding a recall because of the sudden acceleration problem. Just one month after Toyota bragged about their cost savings “win”, a family was four of killed in their Lexus after it accelerated out of control.
While Toyota is working on a solution to its sudden acceleration problems, drivers of Toyota and Lexus vehicles should know what to do if they experience sudden acceleration.
Consumer Reports magazine reports that test drivers found the most effective strategy was to hit the brake pedal hard and hold it.
“Don’t start pumping or pounding on the brakes. That negates the vacuum assist and makes the brakes less effective. Toyota goes a step further. It advises stepping on the brake pedal with both feet, using firm and steady pressure.
After hitting the brakes, shift the transmission into neutral.
After disengaging the engine, pull safely off the road, turn off the car and park it.”
How can you be prepared?
Be sure you know how to get your car into neutral. This varies greatly by make and model and is not always intuitive. You want to know how to do this before you find yourself in an emergency situation.
People may be tempted to turn off the engine, but shifting into neutral is a better option. That’s because turning the engine off stops the power steering system and will make it harder to control the vehicle.
Still, if you can’t get it into neutral, don’t fool around. Shut the engine off.
But even this can be tricky if you are not prepared.
Toyota said if its vehicle is equipped with an “engine start/stop” button, you need to push the button firmly and steadily for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do not tap the start/stop button.
Other car makers, however, use different on-and-off systems, so be sure you know how your vehicle works.
Sources: The Safety Report, Consumer Reports