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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Toyota Runaway Engines

Several instances have been reported over the past few years of Toyota and Lexus vehicles experiencing uncontrollable runaway engines resulting in speeds of more than 100 mph. One instance resulted in the death of a California family when their Lexus reached speeds of more than 120 mph before crashing. In another case, a man and his wife plunged over an ocean side cliff, resulting in the death of the wife.

On September 29th, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Consumer Safety Bulletin warning of potential problems with a series of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Following reports of runaway engines in these vehicles, Toyota determined that the floor mat could possibly jam the accelerator pedal causing a runaway acceleration. Toyota issued a letter on November 2, 2009, stating that an exhaustive review had been conducted and advised all owners of the affected vehicles to remove the driver side floor mats and not replace them until a remedy can be developed.

News stories by ABC and other news organizations are calling the Toyota claim of misplaced floor mats into question. Some experts believe that there may be a flaw in the engine computer program causing the runaway acceleration. Toyota and the NHTSA deny that this is the case. The experts go further to say that the computerized system lacks a fail-safe mechanism that allows for an emergency shut-down of the vehicle.

This article is not intended to determine who is right in this debate, but rather to provide information to Toyota and Lexus owners on what steps they should take if they experience a runaway engine.

The following models are affected:

  • 2007 - 2010 Camry

  • 2005 - 2010 Avalon

  • 2004 - 2009 Prius

  • 2005 - 2010 Tacoma

  • 2007 - 2010 Tundra

  • 2007 - 2010 ES350

  • 2006 - 2010 IS250 and IS350

  • Owners should first follow the advice of Toyota and remove the floor mats.

    Drivers may panic if confronted with this situation so every owner of a Toyota should read the emergency procedures and go over the procedures in their mind whenever they start the car.

    Brakes May be Ineffective - If those who contend the problem goes deeper than floor mats are correct, applying the brakes in this situation may not be effective. In most modern vehicles, power assisted brakes operate by drawing a vacuum supplied by the engine. If the throttle sticks in the full open position, the vacuum will be lost and the power assisted brakes will fail after one or two pumps of the brake pedal. Even if the brakes are working properly, it would be difficult for them to stop a runaway vehicle traveling more than 100 mph.

    If confronted by a runaway engine, drivers should:

  • Steer and look for an emergency escape route – Try to maintain control of the vehicle and look for a way to escape. At all times, look at where you want to steer the vehicle and keep a firm grip on the steering wheel. Drivers should predict what they will do at all times and keep an emergency exit plan in mind. If the road ahead is clear, remaining on the pavement may be the safest option. If there is traffic ahead and you have to consider driving off the road, look for soft soil or bushes that will assist in slowing the vehicle. Driving against a curb can also help slow the vehicle. In extreme situations, steer to make a glancing side blow rather than a head-on collision with another object.

  • Apply both the Emergency/Parking brake and the standard brakes - The emergency brake is a mechanical system that depends on cables and levers rather than hydraulic (brake fluid) pressure to apply the brakes. If confronted with a runaway engine, owners should apply the brakes and, at the same time, immediately apply the emergency brake. Owners should review their vehicle owner’s manual for proper operation of the emergency brake. In some cases, brake cables and connections can become corroded and weaken if the emergency braking system is not frequently applied. You should have your emergency brakes checked for proper operation and use them on a regular basis to keep them in good working order.

  • Shift to Neutral - If unable to shift to neutral, turn the key to the Off or ACC position.

  • Turn the engine to the Off or Accessories (ACC) position - Most Toyotas are programmed to prevent accidental shut off of the engine while the vehicle is in motion.

    • If your vehicle is equipped with a standard key type ignition, turn the key mid-way to the off/accessories position.

    • If your vehicle is equipped with a power button, you must press and hold the button for more than 3 seconds before the engine will shut off. Do not push repeatedly on the button; it must be pressed firmly for more than 3 seconds. In vehicles with an electronic transmission system (such as the Prius), once the engine shuts off the transmission will shift to neutral and the control will shift to ACC.

    DO NOT TURN THE KEY ALL THE WAY TO THE OFF POSITION OR REMOVE THE KEY! Turning the key all the way to the off position or removing it will lock the steering wheel.

    Exit the vehicle - Once you bring the car to a complete stop, all vehicle occupants should immediately exit the vehicle and move to a safe location away from the vehicle. The hot brakes could cause a vehicle fire.

    For more information on the Toyota recall, monitor the following web sites:

    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

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