Toyota's Runaway Vehicle Worries May Not Stop At Floor Mats

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Oct 22, 2009.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2001
    Messages:
    132,737
    Likes Received:
    1,604
    Location:
    PRESIDENTIAL TOWER, GREAT AGAIN, NY
    A fatal accident in San Diego raises the question: Might a vehicle's complex electronic features make it hard for drivers to react quickly when accelerating out of control?

    [​IMG]

    By Ralph Vartabedian and Ken Bensinger
    October 18, 2009

    The 2009 Lexus ES 350 shot through suburban San Diego like a runaway missile, weaving at 120 miles an hour through rush hour freeway traffic as flames flashed from under the car.

    At the wheel, veteran California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor desperately tried to control the 272-horsepower engine that was roaring at full throttle as his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law were gripped by fear.

    "We’re in trouble. . . . There’s no brakes," Saylor's brother-in-law Chris Lastrella told a police dispatcher over a cellphone. Moments later, frantic shrieks filled the car as it slammed into another vehicle and then careened into a dirt embankment, killing all four aboard.

    The tragedy Aug. 28 was at least the fifth fatal crash in the U.S. over the last two years involving runaway Toyota and Lexus vehicles made by Toyota Motor Corp. It is also among hundreds of incidents of sudden acceleration involving the company's vehicles that have been reported to Toyota or the federal government, according to an examination of public records by The Times.

    Toyota has blamed the incidents -- apart from those caused by driver error -- on its floor mats, asserting that if they are improperly installed they can jam open the accelerator pedal. A month after the Saylor crash, Toyota issued its biggest recall in company history, affecting 3.8 million vehicles in model years as far back as 2004. But auto safety experts believe there may be a bigger problem with Toyota vehicles than simply the floor mats.

    The Saylor crash and others like it across the country, they say, point to a troubling possibility: that Toyota's ignition, transmission and braking systems may make it difficult for drivers to combat sudden or unintended accelerations and safely recover, regardless of their cause.

    Toyota is not the only car company to be hit with reports of sudden acceleration, but the San Diego fatality, the massive recall that came in its wake and Toyota's position as the world's largest automaker have focused intense scrutiny on the company by federal safety regulators and others.

    "This is Toyota's Firestone," said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a Rehoboth, Mass., auto safety consulting firm. He was referring to the public relations disaster that hit Bridgestone/Firestone almost 10 years ago over defective tires that caused a series of fatal accidents.

    "Right now," Kane said, "when you say sudden acceleration, Toyota is it."

    In addition to Saylor and Lastrella, the San Diego crash killed Saylor's wife, Cleofe Lastrella, and their only child, 13-year-old daughter Mahala.

    Signaling how seriously the company takes the incident, Toyota President Akio Toyoda made an apology this month while meeting with the Japanese news media.

    "Customers bought our cars because they thought they were the safest," he said. "But now we have given them cause for grave concern. I can't begin to express my remorse."

    One remedy being considered by Toyota implicitly acknowledges what critics have been saying for almost 10 years: that the company's highly computerized engine control system lacks a fail-safe mechanism that can quickly extinguish sudden acceleration events, whether they are caused by floor mats, driver errors or even unknown defects in the electronic control system, as alleged in some lawsuits.

    Reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles has resulted in nine federal inquiries and investigations since 2000, two of which determined that there were improperly positioned floor mats. Another found a loose part in Sienna minivans, and yet another probe remains open. The rest were dismissed with no findings of equipment problems.

    In most Toyota vehicles, the floor mats are held in place by two clips, which can come loose. Toyota offers a standard carpeted floor mat and an optional rubber version. Both mats have a cutout around the accelerator pedal. The vehicle driven by Saylor had a rubber floor mat, but Toyota said it was for a different model of Lexus.

    Since the San Diego crash, Toyota has urged all its customers to remove their floor mats as an interim fix. But longer term, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said, the company is examining significant design changes.

    One possible remedy is to redesign the accelerator pedal to make it harder to get caught by a floor mat, he said. Another potential fix, he said, involves reprogramming the engine's computer to automatically cut power when a driver brakes while the gas pedal is depressed.

    Such fail-safes are needed, auto experts say, because sudden acceleration can cause drivers to panic, diminishing their ability to take swift action -- such as shutting off the engine or shifting into neutral.

    If anybody should have known how to stop an out-of-control car, it was Saylor, who was trained in emergency and high-speed driving as a 19-year CHP veteran. But a close look at the Lexus ES 350 raises questions about whether the car's very design may have compromised Saylor's skills.

    One obvious line of defense is to simply shut off the engine, a step that may not be intuitive on the ES 350. The car has a push-button start system, activated by the combination of a wireless electronic fob carried by the driver and a button on the dashboard.

    But once the vehicle is moving, the engine will not shut off unless the button is held down for a full three seconds -- a period of time in which Saylor's car would have traveled 528 feet. A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.

    "When you are dealing with an emergency, you can't wait three seconds for the car to respond at 120 miles an hour," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

    The ES 350 Saylor was driving that day was a loaner provided to him by Bob Baker Lexus when he took his family's Lexus in for servicing. It's unclear whether Saylor's own car had the same feature or whether he was aware of the shutdown procedure. Bob Baker Lexus did not return calls.

    That procedure is explained deep in the owners manual. In a text box labeled "! Caution," Toyota tells owners, "Do not touch the 'power' switch while driving." But under the warning it adds, "If you have to make an emergency stop, press and hold the 'power' switch for more than three seconds."

    Lyons, the Toyota spokesman, said: "I think the text is valid. What I'd prefer it to say is to explain that you'll lose power assist [for] brakes and steering if you do so."

    The shutdown procedure reflects a larger problem: As auto manufacturers adopt increasingly complex electronic features, it becomes more difficult to explain how they work, said Paul Green, a human factors expert at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute. A study by the institute found that in some cases, owners manuals would have to run up to 1,000 pages to fully disclose everything.

    "In the past, systems were pretty simple," Green said. "You put a key in the lock and turn it. Now we have a fob with functionality."

    The other common defense tactic advised by experts is to simply shift a runaway vehicle into neutral. But the ES 350 is equipped with an automatic transmission that can mimic manual shifting, and its shift lever on the console has a series of gates and detents that allow a driver to select any of at least four forward gears.

    The arrangement of those gear selections could make it difficult to shift from a forward gear directly into neutral in a panic situation, Toyota spokesman Lyons acknowledged.

    "I think it's possible to get the shifter confused, but I can't be sure that's what happened" in San Diego, Lyons said. "You'd be surprised how many people around here [Toyota] don't know what the neutral position is for."

    The most obvious impulse for any driver experiencing sudden acceleration is to apply the brakes. But when an engine goes to full throttle and is speeding at 120 mph, the brake might not stop the car.

    The ES 350 and most other modern vehicles are equipped with power-assisted brakes, which operate by drawing vacuum power from the engine. But when an engine opens to full throttle, the vacuum drops, and after one or two pumps of the brake pedal the power assist feature disappears.

    As a result, a driver would have to apply enormous pressure to the brake pedal to stop the car, and if the throttle was wide open might not be able to stop it at all, safety experts say.

    "I don't think you can stop a car going 120 mph and an engine at full throttle without power assist," said Ditlow, the safety center director.

    Indeed, a 2007 study by federal highway safety officials showed that braking distance and force on a Lexus ES 350 increased fivefold when the throttle was wide open. And evidence introduced in sudden acceleration trials suggests that it can take up to 225 pounds of pressure on a brake pedal to arrest a runaway vehicle, far more than most drivers can muster from a seated position, said Edgar "Hike" Heiskell, a Charleston, W.Va., attorney who is suing Toyota over a fatal acceleration accident in Flint, Mich.

    Lyons acknowledged that the vacuum can be depleted when an engine throttle is wide open, leaving the drivers without power-assisted brakes.

    "There's a [federal] standard where you have to be able to stop the car without power-assisted brakes, but obviously I don't think it includes situations where the throttle is wide open," he added.

    Drivers in other crashes also found it difficult to rein in a runaway Toyota. Guadalupe Gomez of Redwood City said he was held hostage for 20 miles on a Bay Area freeway by a 2007Camry traveling more than 100 mph.

    Gomez was unable to turn off the engine or shift into neutral and then burned out his brakes before slamming into another car and killing that driver, said attorney Louis Franecke, who represented that victim's family.

    The San Diego crash is still under investigation by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the CHP; until the probe is complete, neither agency is commenting.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, says it has an open investigation into sudden acceleration events involving Toyota vehicles.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2001
    Messages:
    132,737
    Likes Received:
    1,604
    Location:
    PRESIDENTIAL TOWER, GREAT AGAIN, NY
    Push Button Starter A Factor in Runaway Lexus ES350?

    [​IMG]

    By Robert Farago
    October 19, 2009

    Toyota has taken a massive hit to its rep, due to reports of floor mat-related unintended acceleration, and the automaker’s subsequent recall. The headline case: a fatal crash on August 28th.

    As The LA Times reports, a “runway” Lexus ES350 slammed into another vehicle and embankment, killing California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law. The Times raises an important point: ” . . . a close look at the Lexus ES 350 raises questions about whether the car’s very design may have compromised Saylor’s skills.

    One obvious line of defense is to simply shut off the engine, a step that may not be intuitive on the ES 350. The car has a push-button start system, activated by the combination of a wireless electronic fob carried by the driver and a button on the dashboard. But once the vehicle is moving, the engine will not shut off unless the button is held down for a full three seconds — a period of time in which Saylor’s car would have traveled 528 feet. A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.”

    The Times points out that the ES 350 was a loaner; Officer Saylor’s car may or may not have had a push button start. What’s more . . .

    That procedure is explained deep in the owners manual. In a text box labeled “! Caution,” Toyota tells owners, “Do not touch the ‘power’ switch while driving.” But under the warning it adds, “If you have to make an emergency stop, press and hold the ‘power’ switch for more than three seconds.”

    So what about shifting out of gear, per Consumer Reports’ advice?

    The other common defense tactic advised by experts is to simply shift a runaway vehicle into neutral. But the ES 350 is equipped with an automatic transmission that can mimic manual shifting, and its shift lever on the console has a series of gates and detents that allow a driver to select any of at least four forward gears.

    The arrangement of those gear selections could make it difficult to shift from a forward gear directly into neutral in a panic situation, Toyota spokesman Lyons acknowledged.

    “I think it’s possible to get the shifter confused, but I can’t be sure that’s what happened” in San Diego, Lyons said. “You’d be surprised how many people around here [Toyota] don’t know what the neutral position is for.”


    Don’t know what neutral is for? How about the brakes?

    The ES 350 and most other modern vehicles are equipped with power-assisted brakes, which operate by drawing vacuum power from the engine. But when an engine opens to full throttle, the vacuum drops, and after one or two pumps of the brake pedal the power assist feature disappears.

    As a result, a driver would have to apply enormous pressure to the brake pedal to stop the car, and if the throttle was wide open might not be able to stop it at all, safety experts say.


    When Audi got hit with sudden unintended acceleration accusations, the “step on the brake while engaging gear” requirement was born. One wonders how this Toyota situation is going to play out from a regulation point-of-view. Meanwhile, lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers. Not because it makes sense, mind you. But because this is how these things always play out.
     
  3. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2001
    Messages:
    132,737
    Likes Received:
    1,604
    Location:
    PRESIDENTIAL TOWER, GREAT AGAIN, NY
    Putting stuck floor mat survival strategies to the test

    Recent reports of stuck accelerator pedals causing crashes and Toyota’s enormous recall has caused many to question whether or not a vehicle’s brakes are powerful enough to overpower the engine to stop a vehicle, and what you should do if you are ever in that situation. Most experts agree that a typical production car engine won’t overpower the car’s brakes from a stop. But what happens at speed is another question. Since we just happen to have a test track and a few dozen test cars at our disposal, our automotive engineers decided to play MythBusters and put it to a test.

    Our first two subjects were the Mercedes-Benz E350 and Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, German cars with so-called “smart-throttle” technology. Both will electronically ignore the throttle input if the brake pedal is depressed. With both, we accelerated to 60 mph and then hit the brakes with the throttle pedal still planted to simulate a condition where the floor mat might have stuck it in place. With both vehicles, we were able to safely slow to a stop despite the engine having been at wide-open throttle. After stopping, the engines idled even with the throttle pedal still floored.

    Verdict: The Mercedes and Volkswagen Smart-Throttle technology works.

    Next up, we tried our Toyota Venza and Chevrolet HHR. Since these lacked smart-throttles, we proceeded more cautiously. So we decided to start this test by flooring the cars to 20 mph (instead of 60) and then slamming on the brakes. While we stopped both cars, the transmissions downshifted hard, trying to fight us on the way down, and we needed to exert quite a bit of brake pedal effort to stop completely. We then drove a lap around our test course to cool the brakes and repeated the procedure. This time we accelerated to 60 mph before we slammed on the brakes. Again, the engines downshifted and fought us all the way down. But by the time we slowed down to about 10 mph, the brakes had faded so much that we weren’t able to come to a complete stop. If the driver had less strength or was traveling at higher speeds, they would not be able to slow down nearly as much.

    Verdict: Most people will likely have a tough time stopping a car using the brakes with a stuck throttle without a smart throttle.

    So what should you do if you are put in such a situation? The answer is simple: Put the car in neutral. In each one of the cars we tested, we were able to easily nudge the gear lever into neutral and stop the car quickly. All modern engines have rev limiters that prevent the engine from over revving and damaging the engine. You can safely shut off the engine after you come to a stop. However, we do not advise shutting off the engine while still driving. We tried this with our Toyota Venza—as Toyota suggests—by holding down the start/stop button for three seconds. While this also allowed us to stop, we lost power steering and had trouble maneuvering the vehicle due to the extremely heavy steering.

    [​IMG]
     
  4. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    Okay the having to push the button on the fob for three seconds as the only means to shutting the engine off is fucking retarded.

    Now....the shifting into neutral bit is still bs. Neutral is still going to be between Park and Whateverthefuck. It's just a natural progression through the gates towards Park.
     
  5. MrBucket

    MrBucket OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2004
    Messages:
    140,213
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Bergen County
    no you push the button on the dashboard
     
  6. Cannondale

    Cannondale OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2007
    Messages:
    83,637
    Likes Received:
    506
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Operator error, it's not hard to put a car into neutral.
     
  7. Dumbstixlars

    Dumbstixlars Ron Paul/AR-15/Glock/old car/Scooby/R/C croo OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2007
    Messages:
    8,359
    Likes Received:
    70
    Location:
    ATX
    Orly? I wonder how I slowed down my 70 Dodge with no power assist from 100+ at the track last Wednesday.
     
  8. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    Okay...you have to push a button for 3 seconds as the only means to turn the ignition off.

    No...most people wouldn't have a fucking clue about that in such a situation.

    They probably hadn't even stopped once in this loaner that he had never driven.

    But the dude is still a moron for not shifting into neutral and trying to use the brakes to stop.
     
  9. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    :ugh: you weren't still full throttle.

    NO brakes are going to do this. They'll just cook long before you can get it slowed down enough.
     
  10. MrBucket

    MrBucket OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2004
    Messages:
    140,213
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Bergen County
    he tried the brakes, they didnt exactly last long when the thing was at full throttle going 120mph:hsugh:

    yes im tired and read that wrong



    im wondering if it would have even gone into neutral if it was malfunctioning like that
     
  11. sea bass

    sea bass Guest

    i can't imagine what car makers were thinking. hmm let's take out the kill switch on a car
     
  12. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2001
    Messages:
    132,737
    Likes Received:
    1,604
    Location:
    PRESIDENTIAL TOWER, GREAT AGAIN, NY
    Initially when this story came out I didn't pay any attention to it just thinking it was a tragic accident. But as more information comes out of the investigation that definitely isn't the case.

    I would not have known that the ignition button would have to be depressed three seconds to kill the engine, most people at Toyota probably didn't even know that themselves. It's the same with gated shifters, unless the shift pattern is straight up and down many are not going to know which detent neutral is in and when your car is going that fast out of control it's not going to be obvious (as Toyota's spokesperson said himself about the neutral gate).

    This is a big issue, especially if something like this happened to you or your loved ones.
     
  13. JohnnyBeagle

    JohnnyBeagle OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2004
    Messages:
    81,105
    Likes Received:
    693
    Location:
    Woodland Hills, CA
    sup i'll call 911 instead of shifting into neutral

    and the "its so hard to find neutral" argument is lol
     
  14. JohnnyBeagle

    JohnnyBeagle OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2004
    Messages:
    81,105
    Likes Received:
    693
    Location:
    Woodland Hills, CA
    or at the very least, where the fuck the clutch is
     
  15. luvmylegend

    luvmylegend Wut?

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2001
    Messages:
    16,706
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Somewhere near Charlotte
    If you move the shifter to auto stick, it does make it tough to shift the lever over and then up. In a panic situation, you lose your mind sometimes.
     
  16. MrBucket

    MrBucket OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2004
    Messages:
    140,213
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Bergen County
    yeah i just love those lexus es350 with manual transmissions:hsugh:
     
  17. sea bass

    sea bass Guest

    not even that. power tools, machinery, motorcycles, etc can cut power with a switch in case of stuck throttles. why would they do away with it on a car?
     
  18. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    :werd:

    Except I'm still not convinced someone shouldn't know how to shift into Neutral. It should be instinctual. You took it out of park...act like you're going to put it back in. Fuck put it back in Park....fuck it. So the trans is fucked. Not your problem and you're alive.
     
  19. JohnnyBeagle

    JohnnyBeagle OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2004
    Messages:
    81,105
    Likes Received:
    693
    Location:
    Woodland Hills, CA
    i was talking about the point he brought up, manual > auto dumbass
     
  20. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    Yes I know...panic situation people panic.

    But this is a veteran CHP. I would think......
     
  21. JohnnyBeagle

    JohnnyBeagle OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2004
    Messages:
    81,105
    Likes Received:
    693
    Location:
    Woodland Hills, CA
    [​IMG]

    sup this is too hard for me to figure out
     
  22. MrBucket

    MrBucket OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2004
    Messages:
    140,213
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Bergen County
    not the easiest thing to be doing in a panic situation going 120 on a highway dodging cars
     
  23. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2001
    Messages:
    132,737
    Likes Received:
    1,604
    Location:
    PRESIDENTIAL TOWER, GREAT AGAIN, NY
    It wasn't his car. If it's not a common design it isn't going to be instinctual for most people unless they own the car and are familiar with it already.
     
  24. imbored

    imbored OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Messages:
    61,550
    Likes Received:
    103
    Location:
    OKC
    Yeah that's pretty fucking stupid looking.
     
  25. MrBucket

    MrBucket OT Supporter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2004
    Messages:
    140,213
    Likes Received:
    53
    Location:
    Bergen County
    honestly i dont know where neutral is on that, i have an idea but not sure since the last automatic i drive was a xfr with the dial for the shifter and i havent driven an auto for like 5 years before that
     

Share This Page