A Toyota-related accident that may have been related to sudden acceleration. (ABC-TV photo)
Three weeks ago, I purchased a 2005 Toyota Corolla. On March 24, 2005, while pulling into a bank parking lot on North Broadway in Nassau County, New York, my car suddenly accelerated, knocking over a chain-link fence and landing in the middle of a six-lane busy road. It is almost unheard of that there were no cars in my path and no one was hurt...Has this ever happened to anyone else with a Toyota?? Let me know.
That report is five years old, but I've been following this story for The Daily Green, and I've fielded many more recent ones. A woman in New England with a 2005 Tacoma said that she and her husband had both "experienced the truck surge in RPMs while sitting at a stop light. The truck feels like it wants to take off on its own."
Toyota has been ineffectual in trying to contain the sudden acceleration problem with a recall of 4.2 million vehicles that blamed the problem on "pedal entrapment." The fix involved shortening the pedal and lowering the carpet pad, but the reports kept coming. And so yesterday Toyota announced a second massive recall, this one of 2.3 million cars and trucks. (Some 1.7 million vehicles are covered by both of them.)
This time, according to Toyota spokesman John Hanson, the problem is a worn and sticking accelerator pedal. "In a few rare cases," he said, "people have said they pushed down the spring-loaded pedal and moved only slowly back to its original position. In a few rare cases, it didn't return but stayed where it was."
Jeffrey Pepski of Plymouth, Minnesota was driving home from work in his 2007 Lexus ES350 early last year. "I experienced a sudden uncontrollable surge in acceleration causing my speed to increase from about 60 mph to 80+ mph," he said. "Immediately I began to brake hard as I was rapidly approaching traffic just ahead of me....There were clouds of smoke around the vehicle and the smell of burning materials from the overheating brakes."
Pepski finally shifted into neutral but that caused the engine to race above the redline, and he thought the car would "blow up." The sudden acceleration episode ended as mysteriously as it began.
I asked for readers to send me their own unintended acceleration stories. Although the Los Angeles Times reports that there have been 19 sudden-acceleration-related fatalities in Toyota and Lexus vehicles since 2001, it's interesting that many involve cars other than Toyota. It may be that the issue is industry-wide, and that the true cause has not been located. Some attorneys for crash victims say the problem is caused by ubiquitous "throttle-by-wire" systems that replace mechanical linkage with electronic signals that could be going astray in the complex computer environment that is the modern automobile. But Hanson says that Toyota has thoroughly investigated that possible cause and found no problems.
Nevertheless, the reports keep coming in. This one has nothing to do with Toyotas:
I experienced a sudden acceleration twice a year ago in my 2000 Chrysler Sebring convertible. Both occurrences took place in a parking lot within a few minutes of each other. It was October, 2008, in Austin, Texas...The vehicle had been parked for 30 to 45 minutes while I shopped for groceries. I returned to the car, started it and backed out of the parking space. When I put the car in drive, the engine suddenly raced and jumped forward. I pushed the brakes hard and it stopped the car within three to four seconds. I traveled maybe five to six feet. I was a bit anxious about the incident, but since it had never happened before, I took it to be an anomaly. At that point in time, I also had not heard of such incidents.
I picked up things which had fallen to the front seat floor from the passenger seat [and took off again]...[S]uddenly, the engine again raced and the vehicle lunged forward. Again, I pressed as hard as I could on the brake but without any real response. I tried to pull the parking brake but nothing happened. It smelled like the brakes were burning, but the car continued to move forward, doubling its speed. As I approached an intersection in the parking lot, I could see vehicles lined up which I would hit if the car wasn't stopped...Perhaps 30 to 45 seconds passed from the point the engine again began accelerating to this point but it seemed forever. The car had reached a speed of 10 - 15 mph by then and was rapidly increasing even with the brakes hit as hard as I could push.
Unable to stop the vehicle, I put it into neutral and turned the ignition off--and everything did stop with only maybe a yard to spare before striking cars side-on.... I can easily understand how this problem could result in deaths and profound injuries
And this report shows that the problem is not exactly new: The car is a 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit, and the incident described happened more than 30 years ago:
After about six months, the accelerator pedal stuck while I was on the highway. The dealer fixed it (it was under warranty). In the next three years the pedal stuck three times, and the cables snapped. A year after we sold the car, VW sent us a notice that they were recalling the cars. If I remember right, the snapped cable (and stuck pedal) was caused by dirt and grit from the road getting stuck in the housing of the accelerator cable, causing it to break. A redesign of the accelerator cable fixed the problem. I wonder if it is something like that, which has caused the Toyota accidents and fatalities.
Toyota admits it doesn't yet have a fix for the worn accelerator problem, and is advising any motorists who experience it to push the brake pedal firmly. Consumer Reports (and ABC-TV, which has been covering this closely) add that switching the car into neutral is the best fix. Please do send other stories, recent or not, to me here at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out this informative video on the issue:
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.