Nothing to See Here Folks!

Ah, to view the world through rose-colored Lentzes. Toyota’s ultra-sincere CEO of Toyota Motor Sales climbed back into the House Energy and Commerce Committee witness chair to utter those words, to which the company has accorded the power of a magical incantation: There’s nothing wrong with our electronics.

“Toyota remains confident that our electronic throttle control system is not a cause of unintended acceleration. Toyota and Lexus vehicles are inherently designed so that a real world uncommanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur. This is achieved by a redundant system design with dual computers and sensors as well as by robust fail safe architecture. We test our vehicles extensively to make sure that the fail safes and redundancies work. Indeed, Toyota’s ETCS-i has been subjected to comprehensive testing over more than a decade without a single unintended acceleration event. Toyota has never discovered or been provided with any evidence that the ETCS-i can cause unintended acceleration in a real world scenario,” James Lentz averred in his written testimony.

Oh, Jim, Jim, Jim, where do we begin?

We’ll start with: “Toyota and Lexus vehicles are inherently designed so that a real world uncommanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur.”

Stacy Stuhrenberg begs to differ. On February 11, the Goodlettsville, TN woman was almost at a complete stop at a traffic light on Long Hollow Pike, when the light changed. Stuhrenberg gave a little gas to her 2004 Sienna to proceed through the light, when the vehicle accelerated in a burst of speed.

“It was like if you slap a horse on the bottom – it just shot off,” she recalled.

Although Stuhrenberg depressed the brakes as hard as she could, she rear-ended another vehicle. Toyota hired an outside technician from Goodlettsville Collision to examine her vehicle. Stacey’s husband witnessed the visual inspection of the brakes and accelerator pedal. No electronic vehicle diagnostics were performed.

On May 6, Toyota sent Stuhrenberg a ding letter affirming that her floor mats were secured and the accelerator pedal functioned properly: “We are very sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident; however, our inspection determined that this incident was not a result of any type of manufacture design or defect. Thank you for allowing us to address your concerns.” Click on the image below to read the letter.

(State Farm finally agreed to total her vehicle and go after Toyota and subrogate the claim.)

Tim Kenkel of Denver, Co. would also dispute Toyota’s contention that uncommanded acceleration can not occur in the real world.

Kenkel experienced two incidents in his 2008 Rav4 Limited Edition in 15 minutes. Kenkel was also at a stop light with his foot on the brake, when all of a sudden, the engine revved into redline territory. Kenkel was able to keep the vehicle from moving forward and put the vehicle into neutral. The Rav4 engine continued to rev. Kenkel “slammed it into park,” and turned the engine off. He re-started the vehicle five minutes later, but upon ignition, the engine went immediately to wide-open throttle.

“Every light on the dash board was blinking like a Christmas tree,” he recalled

Kenkel killed the engine again and waited another ten minutes before starting his vehicle up again. The engine behaved normally this time, so he proceeded to the Go Toyota Scion Arapahoe dealership in Centennial. By the day’s end, the dealership called and swore it had subjected the vehicle to a battery of tests and found nothing wrong with the vehicle.

It was your floor mat, they told him.

When Kenkel returned to the dealership to ask for the copies of tests, the staff finally confessed that they had performed a visual inspection of the driver’s side foot well – and nothing else. Kenkel insisted they run a diagnostic on the electronics. Lo and behold, the ECM reported five Diagnostic Trouble Codes in the chassis, the network and electrical systems. ACTION REQUIRED, according to the diagnostic report.

Kenkel says that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Vehicle Research and Test Center is buying his Rav4 for the value of his loan — $29,000.

Maybe you aren’t finding any problems, Jim, because you aren’t looking for them.

In Toyota’s alternate-reality world, the complaints boil down to:

  • Vehicles that have not yet received the floor mat entrapment or sticking accelerator pedal remedy.

  • Cases requiring an explanation of vehicle characteristics where an increase in engine speed is normal, such as higher engine idle speed after a cold start, a slight increase in engine RPM when the air conditioning compressor cycles on, or a slight surge when the vehicle accelerates to the set speed once the cruise control is engaged.

  • Concerns or questions about slight differences in the driving experience following a driveability programming update while the adaptive memory adjusts to the wear of certain components and their current operating characteristics
  • The presence of double- or triple-stacked floor mats
  • Dissatisfaction with the feel of the accelerator pedal after the reinforcement bar remedy was fitted to address th potential for sticking pedals (in which case a new pedal was installed); and
  • In rare cases, vehicles that were not correctly remedied during a recall.

According to Quality Control Systems Corp, which has been closely monitoring post-recall complaints, at least 155 incidents of SUA have been reported to NHTSA in which the owner claims the vehicle was repaired under a company recall.

Here are some events happening in the real world:

ODI# 10320934

Attn: Defects Investigations Office. 2007 Toyota Camry with 38721 miles that is owned by and used as an undercover police vehicle accelerated without explanation on March 10, 2010. The operator, who is a sworn officer, advises that his foot was not on the accelerator and the vehicle increased in speed and engine revolutions without explanation. The event occurred over the course of approximately 1/10th of a mile reaching speeds just over 60 mph. The acceleration event corrected itself. There was no injury or crash associated with the event. The vehicle in question had completed a Toyota recall service program # ssc90l to address acceleration issues with this model vehicle on March 2, 2010. The vehicle was returned to the Henrico police on March 3, 2010. The extremely short period of time between the recall service and this sudden unanticipated acceleration event gives reason to believe that the recall service was not effective in correcting the acceleration issues associated with Toyota brand vehicles. The vehicle was parked shortly after the event and is currently secured by the Henrico police. The vehicle has not been driven or examined by any parties since the occurrence of this acceleration event. In light of the fact that this vehicle had recently completed the required acceleration recall service and has been secured since the date of the occurrence, this agency believes that this vehicle is an ideal candidate for examination by the office of defects investigations to determine the origin of this unanticipated acceleration event. The vehicle in question is outfitted with Toyota brand floor mats which are tethered to anchors in the floorboard of the vehicle.

ODI # 10329268

The contact owns a 2009 Toyota Camry. The owner stated that the vehicle was taken to Toyota for recall NHTSA campaign id number: 10V017000 and the remedy was performed. Approximately three months later while his wife was operating the vehicle and pulling into a parking lot, at approximately 4 MPH, to park the vehicle accelerated without driver intent. It crashed through a plate glass window and continued on and crashed in to a wall inside the building and was still attempting to accelerate. The vehicle was put into neutral then into drive and the driver was finally able to get the vehicle turned off. No injuries were reported. The Houston police responded and took a report #064969310-p. The vehicle was towed by a city approved towing company and is currently at a impound lot. The insurance company is sending an adjuster to inspect the vehicle. The failure and current mileage is approximately 50,000. Rd

ODI# 10328848

While driver was pulling into a parking space and coming to a near stop, the vehicle, a 2008 Toyota Camry, suddenly accelerated on its own accord, hopping the concrete curb, accelerating the vehicle as the car crashed struck and pushed along a trash bin, thru thick brush, a steel gated fence and eventually striking a tree where the vehicle finally came to rest. The driver attempted to stop the vehicle by applying both feet to the brakes as it traveled approximately 150 feet. The vehicle was subject to both the floor mat and acceleration pedal recalls which were repaired on February 11, 2010. This incident was post-recall repair. Since the incident, the vehicle has not been repaired and is currently being stored by an autobody repair facility and awaits inspection by NHTSA and Toyota. *tr

These are but a few of the rare cases in which uncommanded acceleration cannot occur.