Originally published Feb. 3. Updated Feb. 5 and Feb. 9.
While the most fuel-efficient Toyotas were not among the recall models associated with the growing sudden acceleration problem, the Prius is now suspect because of a feature inherent to most hybrids: regenerative braking. Update: On Feb. 8 Toyota announced recalls of tens of thousands of 2010 Prius hybrids and 2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrids to address braking problems.
The regenerative braking problems that has prompted the Japanese government to order Toyota to investigate its popular hybrid, the Prius, may not be unique to that country. There have been more than 100 complaints from U.S. car buyers about 2010 Prius brakes made to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least two of which resulted in injuries:
WHILE DRIVING 15 MPH AND ATTEMPTING TO ENGAGE THE BRAKE PEDAL IT EXTENDED TO THE FLOOR; HOWEVER, WITHIN A FEW SECONDS THE BRAKE WOULD RESPOND. SHE EXPERIENCED THE BRAKE FAILURE THREE TIMES; DURING THE SECOND FAILURE THE BRAKES DIDN'T RESPOND AND SHE COLLIDED INTO A VEHICLE AND INJURED HER NECK. SHE HAS NOT TAKEN THE VEHICLE TO THE DEALER SINCE THE FAILURE OCCURRED ONLY WHEN SHE HIT A BUMP IN THE ROAD. SHE WILL TAKE THE VEHICLE TO THE DEALER TO BE DIAGNOSED. THE VIN WAS NOT AVAILABLE. THE FAILURE MILEAGE WAS 3,000 AND THE CURRENT MILEAGE WAS 10,000.
I WAS UNABLE TO SLOW DOWN GOING INTO AN INTERSECTION AT A REASONABLE RATE OF SPEED. WHILE I WAS NOT ACCELERATING, WHEN I APPLIED THE BRAKES THE CAR DID NOT SLOW DOWN AS I WOULD HAVE EXPECTED. THIS SAME BEHAVIOR HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS SINCE I'VE OWNED THE PRIUS 2010 MODEL. IT SEEMS TO SKIP FORWARD OR ACCELERATE WHILE BRAKING ON A DOWNHILL OR UNEVEN SURFACE. BY THE TIME I WAS ABLE TO STOP I THE AIRBAGS HAD GONE OFF AND I HAD HURT MY NECK AND BACK. IT IS A NEW VEHICLE THAT NOW HAS ALMOST $14,000 DAMAGE AND WON'T BE FIXED FOR A MONTH. IF ANYTHING, I'M AN OVERLY CAUTIOUS DRIVER AND WONDERING WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE TO AVOID THE ACCIDENT.
Is this problem limited to the Prius, or is it a problem associated with regenerative braking more generally? At least one complaint has also been filed about the 2010 Toyota Camry hybrid. Here's the complaint:
CAMRY HYBRID 2010. BOUGHT NEW AND COMPLAINED TO TOYOTA OF SURGING FORWARD INCONSISTENCY DURING MY DAILY TWO HOUR COMMUTE. I ASKED IF THEY PLANNED TO FIX IT DURING MY LAST SERVICE VISIT AND THE ANSWER WAS "NOPE." WHEN ASKED THAT THEY DO FIX IT, THE ANSWER WAS, "NOPE!". YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED IN APRIL WHEN THE PEDALS ARE GOING TO BE FIXED. I HAVE HAD NIGHTMARES OF SPEEDING OUT OF CONTROL AND AM AFRAID TO DRIVE THIS CAR. DO I HAVE ANY RECOURSE. THIS IS NOT THE CAR I THOUGHT I PURCHASED MONTHS AGO.
Update: The brakes of the Lexus HS 250h, a Toyota vehicle, is now also under scrutiny, according to the Los Angeles Times.
And at least one complaint has been filed about brakes on the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid, but none about the Ford Escape hybrid. Here's the Fusion complaint:
I BOUGHT A 2010 FORD FUSION HYBRID ON MAY 23, 2009 FROM CROWN FORD OF FAYETTEVILLE, NC. ON MAY 27, WHILE DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD, THE BREAKS SUDDENLY HIT THE FLOOR AND THERE WAS MINIMAL RESISTANCE. I EVENTUALLY BROUGHT THE CAR TO A HALT IN A PARKING LOT. IT WAS TOWED TO CROWN FORD AND THEY SAID IT WAS ONLY AIR IN THE BREAKS AND THE CAR WAS NOW SAFE FOR MY FAMILY. 4 DAYS LATER ON MAY 31ST WHILE I WAS IDLING AT A STOP LIGHT WITH MY DAUGHTER IN THE BACK SEAT, THE BREAKS WENT TO THE FLOOR/FAILED AGAIN AND I HAD TO UTILIZED THE EMERGENCY BREAK TO MANEUVER IT TO A SAFE PLACE. CROWN FORD SAID IT WAS THE WIRING THIS TIME. I DO NOT THINK FORD KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS VEHICLE SINCE IT HAS THIS NEW REGENERATIVE BREAKING SYSTEM. WHAT I DO KNOW IS THAT AS SOON AS MY FUSION HYBRID WAS "FIXED" AGAIN, I DROVE IT STRAIGHT TO ANOTHER DEALERSHIP AND TRADED IT IN FOR A DIFFERENT VEHICLE. I WOULD NEVER PUT MY KIDS BACK IN THAT CAR AND AM WORRIED ABOUT OTHER FAMILIES WHO CHOOSE TO BUY THIS TYPE OF VEHICLE.
Update: Ford plans to fix braking problems on Mercury Milan and Ford Focus hybrids, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Of the other hybrids on The Daily Green's list of most fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, there have been no registered NHSTA complaints for the Honda hybrids, the Accord or the Insight; the Mercury hybrids, the Milan and Mariner; the Lexus HS 250h hybrid or the Nissan Altima hybrid.
Will this problem engulf the hybrid market? It's too early to tell, but stay tuned.
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