Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Toyota Incident

This is not a good time for the Toyota company.

Or for people who own Toyotas.

From the news:

"CHP Officer Says Out-Of-Control Prius Did Not Appear To Have Stuck Pedal"
KPBS (March 9, 2010)

"A California Highway Patrol officer described a harrowing, high-speed ride on Interstate 8 as he tried to help a Prius driver whose car wouldn't stop accelerating.

"Prius owner James Sikes told a 911 dispatcher 'My car won't slow down!' as he desperately tried to stop his out-of-control car. The highway patrol officer who helped Sikes stop his car said applying the brake and the emergency brake at the same time was what finally stopped the Prius.

"Officer Todd Neibert says Sikes was literally standing on his brake, while his car went 90 miles an hour, as Neibert pulled alongside him. Afterward, Neibert says he saw no evidence that the accelerator was trapped on a floor-mat...." [emphasis mine]

Yes: a floor mat in the wrong place can cause the accelerator pedal to stick. But this, in my opinion, is a classic example of why it's so important to study the news: not just read it.

I'm no auto mechanic, but today's automobiles are complex devices - it's possible, I think, that a misplaced floor mat isn't the only possible malfunction.

"Feds to investigate S.D. runaway Prius"
KABC (March 9, 2010)

"Federal and company investigators inspected the Toyota Prius that sped out of control on a San Diego freeway, to determine if a stuck gas pedal was to blame.

"Two investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were also sent to examine the car after Monday's incident. A Toyota Motor Corp. spokesperson said that the company is sending three technicians to investigate as well...."

I could be wrong about this, but I think Toyota Motor Corporation has an intense interest in finding out exactly what went wrong. They used to have a reputation for building well-engineered and well-manufactured vehicles. Now? Not so much.

"Runaway Prius driver: 'I was laying on the brakes but it wasn't slowing down' "
Los Angeles Times (March 9, 2010)

"Regulators and Toyota say they'll investigate James Sikes' wild ride east of San Diego, where he reached speeds of 90 mph weaving in and out of traffic before a CHP officer came to his aid."

"James Sikes bought his Toyota Prius in 2008 and 53,000 miles later the car was driving fine. But on Monday afternoon, when he accelerated to pass another vehicle on Interstate 8 east of San Diego, the car kept going.

" 'The gas pedal stuck open all the way,' said Sikes, 61, a real estate agent from San Diego.

"For 30 miles, Sikes said, he swerved in and out of traffic, narrowly missing a big rig and trying desperately to slow the vehicle down, at one point reaching down with his hand to pull back on the gas pedal. The brakes were useless.

" 'I was laying on the brakes,' Sikes said, 'but it wasn't slowing down.'

"The 'nerve-wracking' experience, he said, ended when a CHP officer, responding to his 911 call, instructed him through a loudspeaker to apply his emergency brake in tandem with the brake pedal. Sikes pressed down, hard. 'My bottom wasn't even on the seat,' he said.

"When the Prius, which had reached 90 mph, dropped to about 50 mph, Sikes turned off the engine and coasted to a stop. There was nothing else he could have done to stop the car, Sikes said.

" 'If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.'..."

Sure, Mr. Sikes could have shut the engine down earlier. Probably. Assuming that there's nothing in newer Toyotas that's too sophisticated to be affected by turning the ignition key.

But being forced into playing dodgem on a California freeway at 90+ miles an hour? I think Mr. Sikes did well to come out without killing anyone - including himself.

"Driver: My Prius took me for a ride"
CNN (March 9, 2010)
(Includes KGTV video)

"The driver of a Toyota Prius says he was taken on a wild ride Monday after the car's accelerator became stuck, reaching speeds in excess of 90 mph on a winding, hilly portion of a southern California interstate.

"It took the California Highway Patrol to bring the car safely to a stop.

"The driver, Jim Sikes, said he was traveling east on Interstate 8 outside of the San Diego area when he attempted to pass a slower vehicle.

" 'I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car, and it just did something kind of funny ... and it just stuck there, he said at a news conference outside a Highway Patrol office. As I was going, I was trying the brakes ... and it just kept speeding up.'..."

And that was yesterday. What's going to be in the news today is anyone's guess.

I hope that Toyota Motor Corporation can pull itself out of this mess. Even allowing for the sort of spotlight they're in right now: there seems to have been something terribly wrong with quite a few of their products, over the years.

And, in case this detail gets lost in the excitement: The last I heard, at least some of the problems with Toyotas in America is that someone in the company saved a few bucks - but using made-in-America parts. (January 30, 2010) Ouch.

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