Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Toyota car safety issues are scary. Toyota's response is scarier still.

This Toyota thing is getting bad.  Not only has Toyota halted production and recalled over 9 million vehicles, but they still have no good answer for the millions of consumers at risk from their runaway cars.  Consumers have to keep driving, and wait until Toyota contacts them to get their accelerator pedal fixed!  This from the company that for months blamed the runaway car problem on improperly installed floormats, even though multiple drivers reporting issues had no floormats on the driver side.  Finally, they've admitted the problem may be with the design of the accelerator pedal itself (this man thinks it may be an electrical problem, in which case Toyota's pain is just beginning), but only after months of downplaying the issue.  That's right, Toyotas are speeding out of control and killing their drivers due to faulty accelerator pedals. 
This isn't a potential safety concern; it's a real hazard that has already been responsible for multiple horrific deaths.  That's about as bad a "quality defect" as you can have.

I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more press coverage than it has, given Toyota's once stellar reputation, and just how many Americans drive Toyota cars.  The New York Times finally did a piece, but this should have been getting the attention of investigative journalists much earlier.  Reading about the multiple fatal crashes that have involved accelerator pedals sticking to the floor, with no braking control, chilled me to the bone.  One crash involved a highway patrolman, who was unable to bring the car under control before careening into an intersection, killing him and his family.  The LA Times has a nice story from the fall that details how systematically consumer complaints and road incidents involving sticking pedals or sudden acceleration were ignored by both Toyota and regulating agencies.

To me, it seems like Toyota still isn't taking this seriously enough.  There is no reference to the product recall on Lexus's front page, and Toyota's only has a tiny blip.  Moreover, it's impossible to find which Lexus models are involved on either the Lexus or Toyota site.  If Toyota's reputation is ever going to recover (how do you trust a company that blamed consumers for "improperly installed floormats" while their vehicles were speeding out of control?), they need to make the safety of their existing Toyota drivers a top priority.  If the recall protocol is any indication, they're failing to do this on a major scale.

What's shocking about this so-called "recall" is that, unlike in normal product recalls, where you return your product and get your money back, the "recall" is simply about offering a "fix" to drivers of Toyota and Lexus cars, but one that is not available immediately.  That's right, they expect you to keep driving your Toyota or Lexus until they tell you that your dealer is ready to fix it.  The only way they will offer immediate assistance is if you are already experiencing a sticking gas pedal!  Until then, they have some handy tips on how to bring your vehicle under control if it suddenly starts accelerating without your permission.

Here are quotes from Toyota's recall website:
5. When can I get my vehicle fixed?

We will begin contacting customers to let them know when to bring in their vehicles for the fix, and some of them will be notified as early as this week.

At Toyota, our highest priority has been to quickly and effectively address the needs of owners of affected vehicles. Parts to reinforce the pedals are already being shipped for use by dealers, and many Toyota dealers will work extended hours to complete the recall campaign as quickly and conveniently as possible -- some even staying open 24 hours a day.

9. Is my car safe to drive if it has not yet received this solution?

To be clear, the condition is rare and generally does not occur suddenly. It can occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.

Customers who experience an accelerator pedal that is hard to depress, slow to return or is unsmooth during operation should drive the vehicle to a safe location, shut off the engine and contact a Toyota dealer for assistance.

In the event that a driver experiences an accelerator pedal that sticks in a partial open throttle position or returns slowly to idle position, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes. The brakes should not be pumped repeatedly because it could deplete vacuum assist, requiring stronger brake pedal pressure. The vehicle should be driven to the nearest safe location, the engine shut off and contact a Toyota dealer for assistance.
They're stopping production on their cars until they can figure out what to do, so no one else gets a monster car, but you, faithful Toyota/Lexus driver, should keep right on driving your deathmobile until they call you.  Does anyone else find this solution a little unsatisfactory?

And, from the articles I read, it appears the only people who successfully controlled their cars did so by shifting into neutral and using the emergency brake.  The regular brake was completely ineffective.  Although Toyota continues to claim stepping on the brake pedal with both feet and applying steady pressure should be effective, they have elsewhere admitted that the power braking system does not have enough power to counter "wide open throttle," which can occur in sudden acceleration.  Shifting to neutral, the emergency brake, and turning the car off as a last resort seem to be the only solutions reported by people who have left these death trap cars alive.

But good lord, if I owned one, I'd be taking GM up on its offer of a sweet lease deal or 0% financing.  If American car companies ever had an opportunity, it's now.

1 comment:

  1. perspective--a lot of things about driving are more dangerous than a sticky gas pedal......



Commenting is now open, but we'd love it if you chose one username so other commenters can get to know you. To do this, select "Name/URL" in the "Comment as" drop down. Put the name you'd like others to see; the URL is optional.

Any profanity, bigotry, or synonyms for "[ ] sucks!" will be deleted. We welcome criticism as long as you're making a point!