The Toyota Acceleration Question
Update on the Toyota “unintended acceleration” issue on February 8th, 2011. Nasa engineers were unable to find ANY problems with Toyota electronics after a 10 month study. The only problems they found were those already addressed: Floor mats and sticky gas pedals. I am pleased to hear my faith in the Toyota electronics was not misplaced.
The news has been full of information about Toyota’s problems lately. I was in Tijuana last Friday night, and as I climbed out of my Prius, a 12 year old Mexican boy says to me in Spanish “Isn’t this one of the cars with all the acceleration problems?”
I thought you all might like to know my feelings on the subject. Along with Toyota, I do not believe there is any “unintended acceleration” issue. There have been sticky accelerator pedals and also some floor mat issues. I suspect the latest Prius and the highway patrol car was one of those two issues and if you read what the driver said, he acknowledged that the pedal stuck; the car did NOT accelerate on its own due to some electronics issue.
Toyota has over 10 years of experience in electronic throttle control. All of Toyota’s hybrids use it, and their sales of those cars (not counting the non-hybrid electronic throttle cars) are well over 1 million. Regardless of the claims of the man who testified before congress, Toyota’s software is designed to close the throttle in event of a bad input from the gas pedal, or a wiring fault. My belief is that it works flawlessly. I have not the slightest fear in driving my Prius that the car will accelerate on its own and drive into a wall or some other person.
Toyota’s recall of a large number of vehicles (the Prius was not among them) has changed the operating strategy so that at highway speeds, applying the brake and the gas at the same time will result in the throttle closing. I tried it on a 2009 Camry. I held the gas pedal right to the floor and then stepped on the brake. I brought the car easily and safely to a stop without undue braking effort.
My guess is that Toyota may have to reprogram all of its electronic throttle cars in this fashion in order to stop the negative publicity. In the mean time, should one of you Toyota Prius owners have a problem, you have three ways to slow your car down:
1) Push the park button. This is my recommendation as it is very easy and instantaneous. Above 3 miles per hour, your car will not shift into park; it will shift into neutral and the engine will immediately slow down, even if the gas pedal is held to the floor. No damage will result.
2) Shift the trans into neutral (any car; this is the best option and though the engine may race, it will not over-rev as the computer will shut off the fuel if it goes too fast.) In the Prius, the way to do this is to move the shifter over to the left and up to the reverse position. In most other cars you will simply shift the lever into the neutral position, but there is no way to do that on the Prius.
3) Turn the key off or in the case of the smart key, hold the power button down. This option is less safe on some cars because if you turn the key to the lock position, you could lock your steering.
I suggest getting on a clear road and trying these options or at least options 1 and 2. You will not hurt the car and it will help you to be prepared should something happen, but perhaps more importantly, it will help you to respond to people who claim those things don’t work. They do work; I have tried them myself on my own car. That is why I don’t believe the words of those who claim otherwise.
I trust you are all well. GM hopes you will sell your Japanese car and go buy an American one. That is certainly your choice, but if you do, I hope you will do it for some other reason than fear that your car will drive off on its own!
Best regards, Phil Fournier, Phil’s Auto Clinic