October 15, 2010
What do you do when you make your living by guitar and you experience an SUA in your Toyota? You write a song about it, of course. Kris Kitko, a professional musician from Bismarck, North Dakota was in her 2002 low-mileage Camry, heading down Route 83 when her vehicle suddenly accelerated. She had set the cruise control to the 70 mph speed limit, and was traveling for several miles, without touching the accelerator pedal and without incident. Suddenly, she says, “it felt like I was in a rocket — it felt like the pedal hit the floor. I had a passenger in the car and she let out a scream. It made it close to 80 mph pretty quickly. Thankfully, pressing the brake was all it took. As soon as I touched the brakes it stopped.”
Kitko wasn’t sure what to do next, so she pulled over and called her answering machine and left a message explaining what had happened, in case the Camry misbehaved again with more dire consequences.
Kitko’s Internet research persuaded her that a visit to a Toyota dealer probably wouldn’t yield much more than a your-car-is-fine pat on the head, so she took to an independent mechanic. Pat Riepl, of Pro-Tune Plus, used a diagnostic scanner, but pulled no Diagnostic Trouble Codes. Riepl, a technician with 30 years experience, knew that vehicles don’t always set DTC when they experience a failure. So, he did some further diagnostic testing, and found that her accelerator voltages were out of spec – something that should have set a fault code. Then Mr. Riepl explained to us that the signals in Toyota’s fault detection system moved in parallel – instead of crossing, the way that do in other automaker’s systems. Hmmm. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah. Dr. Dave Gilbert, another old hand under the hood, noticed that very same thing. (Dr. David Gilbert: Toyota Electronic Throttle Control Investigation)
Riepl replaced the accelerator pedal and installed a kill switch on her dash that would bypass the engine computer and cut the fuel supply to the engine, should the Camry ever accelerate unexpectedly again.
But back to Kitko’s song.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. “I thought, I’ll just write a song about it. But I’m not trying to make a buck off this. People have died. I’m treating the song as a news release.”
We thought she had sized up the situation rather nicely. And we strongly believe that this song is going to go down in history as one the great consumer protest songs – right up there with “United Breaks Guitars.”