Independent Scientists Find More Trouble in Toyotas

A new technical paper from the research scientists at the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) buttresses the findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA’s Engineering Safety Center investigation into Toyota unintended acceleration: Toyota vehicles with potentiometer type accelerator pedal position sensors have a propensity to grow tin whiskers that can and do cause shorts in a highly sensitive engine management area.

Researchers Bhanu Sood, Michael Osterman and Michael Pecht studied a pedal assemblies performed a physical analysis of an engine control system from a 2005 Camry XLE, V-6 and an accelerator pedal assembly from a defunct 2002 Camry. The 2005 engine control system included the ECM, an accelerator pedal unit, throttle body, electrical connectors and electrical connecting cables.

Hindsight’s Still 20-20: The Toyota Quality Report

We here at the Safety Record Blog are getting caught up on our blogging after a hectic  before-the-holiday-weekend week attending Edmund.com’s Let’s Blame it on the Drivers conference and releasing our response to the NHTSA and NESC report on Toyota. If you haven’t had a chance to read this special edition of The Safety Record, you can catch it here.

And son of a gun if Toyota didn’t release its long awaited quality report on the same day! (A little awkward, we know.) This panel of Very Serious People outside of the company was charged with the task of evaluating just what went wrong:

“The Charter directs the Panel to conduct a thorough and independent review of the soundness of these processes and provide its assessment to Toyota’s senior management.”

NHTSA-NASA Reports Show That Toyota Electronics are Deficient – Can Lead to Unintended Acceleration: Toyota’s Involvement Exposed in New Documents

REHOBOTH, MASS – The Safety Record, Safety Research & Strategies’ watchdog publication, published its new findings on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) reports on Toyota Unintended Acceleration.  Following extensive review of those reports and previously unavailable documents recently released by NHTSA and interviews with numerous scientists and experts, the authors found that:

  • - NASA identified numerous failures in Toyota electronics that could lead to unwanted acceleration.
  • - The report was heavily influenced by Toyota and its experts, including Exponent.
  • - The reports were narrowly construed examinations of limited vehicles and components.
  • - Much of the reports remain shrouded in secrecy.

What Got Stuck in NHTSA’s Craw

More than a year ago, NHTSA whomped Toyota upside the pocketbook with a $16.4 million fine for failing to recall 2.3 million vehicles with defective accelerator pedals. It was just slightly more than chump change to billionaire Toyota, but at the time, everyone gasped at the largest civil penalty the agency had levied against an automaker –ever.

As described by Toyota, the so-called sticky pedals, manufactured by supplier CTS, were slow to return to idle and could become stuck in a partially depressed position. Just for the record, we’d like to remind our readers that the SRS has always argued that a sticky pedal has nothing to do with unintended acceleration--which is not to say that this problem isn't a safety defect -- it just doesn't lead to the type of unintended acceleration incidents reported by drivers.  But NHTSA and Toyota have always enjoyed conflating the two, without offering any evidence that sticky pedals cause unintended acceleration events. It gave the appearance that all concerned were actually doing something about the problem.

Updated Toyota Report: The Recall Ate My Floormat!

Well, here we are, 14 months after Toyota began admitting to the world that it could no longer design a simple pedal, a floor mat or a floor pan, by launching Phase I of many phases of a recall to replace all-weather floor mats that may entrap the accelerator. Initially, the recall 90L, the mother of all floor mat recalls, was meant to switch those sneaky little All-Weather Floor Mats out of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles.  (See  Toyota All-Weather Floor Mat Entrapment)

Another Attack of the Killer Floor Mats: Sarasota Edition

Dear Toyota:

Why did you buy back Tim Scott’s 2007 Lexus RX? We mean, really? You gave him a bunch of different reasons, but he doesn’t believe you. (We’re finding it a little hard to swallow, too.)

Awaiting your reply,

SRS

Here’s Tim Scott’s story. In early December, as NHTSA and NASA were putting the finishing touches on their reports saying that there is nothing wrong with Toyota’s electronics or software, Scott experienced an unintended acceleration event in his 2007 Lexus RX350, on his way home from the gym. Here’s the narrative that Scott, 46, the chief financial officer for the International Union of Police Associations, wrote:

We Read the Report. Did Ray?

Last week, NHTSA pitched its two technical tomes on Toyota unintended acceleration at a pack of reporters, declared that the automaker’s electronics were fine, and ran away. Our esteemed Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood then made the media rounds, grousing that the critics hadn’t read the report, which leads us to ask: Did Ray?

We’ve been reading it and re-reading it, and conferring with a wide range of technical experts – some of whom have extensive experience in engine management control design, validation and testing. And we gotta tell you, Ray, we aren’t ready to buy our kid a new Toyota.

Far from exonerating Toyota electronics, the reports by NHTSA and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) confirm the paucity of the automaker’s safety diagnostics. The NESC team also identifies how the two signals in the accelerator pedal position sensor can be shorted in the real world – leading to an open throttle (aka, tin whiskers). Hell, NESC found the potential in three pedals – that’s a pretty significant percentage in a very small sample. Tin whiskers are such a serious issue that NASA has devoted considerable resources to studying them. They have wreaked electronic havoc on everything from medical devices to weapons systems and satellites. Yet, the NESC report treated the discovery of tin whiskers in a third of their pedal sample like a dead end, instead of a promising avenue of study.

NHTSA Shuts the Door on Toyota Electronics in High Speed SUA – NASA, Not so Much

In his characteristically colorful way, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told reporters today: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics system, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended, high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.”

LaHood issued this scientific proclamation based on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration “rigorous” examination of nine Toyotas in which the drivers complained about Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

What We Know About Toyota Electronics

While NHTSA and NASA have been busy in their test labs, we’ve been busy doing some testing of our own. And, although our findings are preliminary, we’re uncovering important clues to the gaps in Toyota’s electronic safety net. We haven’t seen NHTSA’s report, but we’re hearing the sound of hands dusting themselves off and feet walking away. What’s troubling is examinations of the complaint data consistently show statistically significant increases in SUA complaints in Toyota models when equipped with its Electronic Throttle Control system.

Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration: We’ve Got the Numbers!

Safety Research & Strategies has completed our latest review of Toyota unintended acceleration complaint data, and they confirm that Toyota owners are still reporting SUA incidents – even those who had taken their vehicles in for the recall repairs.

Our database consists of incidents from the following sources:

- Consumer complaints to NHTSA through January 5, 2011

- Toyota-submitted claims from several NHTSA investigations into unintended acceleration

- Incidents reported by media organizations

- Consumer contacts made to our organization and others that are reporting incidents that they have received.

Every effort has been made to identify duplicate records and combine them.  However, often the reports do not provide enough detail to link incidents to other reports.  There are likely some duplicates among our records – if there are, they are few.

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