January 25, 2010
We, here at The Safety Record Blog, understand the hell of a story that breaks at 5 p.m. on a Friday, with every relevant source already on the way to his weekend and unavailable by cell. We do not understand all of the breathless second and third-day stories in which the reporter hasn’t taken the time to understand the context of the issue on which they are writing – to wit, Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration.
Headlines like: Toyota Knew of Sticky Throttle Problem Late Last Year, from USAToday’s DriveOn section, make us wince. Toyota has known that its vehicles suffer from unintended acceleration since May 2003, when the first consumers began demanding that NHTSA investigate this problem. That would be six-and-a-half years ago. Complaint rates, particularly on the popular Camry, coincide with the introduction of the automakers electronic throttle beginning with the 2002 model year.
A stroll through the public record shows that irate Toyota drivers have been requesting investigations at the rate of about one per year, that the agency has thrown up its hands, that Toyota has been successful at fending off serious inquiries and that it hasn’t acknowledged the root cause, yet either – if, in fact, the automaker has found it. If you can’t spare a moment to read the whole NHTSA file, click here and read our handy Toyota SUA timeline and prior posts.
Are the floor mats really the problem? Or one of several problems? Does a sticky accelerator pedal explain all of the instances of SUA? How does a floor mat or a sticking pedal make a vehicle jump from 60 mph to 80 mph? Why are the fixes confined to only certain models or model years, when a wider range appears to be plagued with the problem?
We believe that the causes of SUA in Toyotas are multi-faceted. Unintended acceleration shows up across a number of Toyota makes, models and years, occurring under varying circumstances, and in different ways. Based on our review of complaints, owner interviews and vehicle inspections, there appears to be a multitude of root causes ranging from mechanical interface to electronic defects. Thus far, Toyota has only been willing to recall some vehicles for mechanical defects. Regardless, all of these problems point back to the lack of appropriate failsafe designs – designs that ensure the driver can easily control the vehicle, when something does go wrong. But don’t take our word for it, ask Toyota about it.
Remember, dear cousins of the Fourth Estate, Toyota is a major automaker in major trouble right now. It is looking for ways to limit its liability, to limit its recall costs and keep its reputation and customers. It is doing what any corporation would do in this position, but you don’t have to swallow every spoonful Toyota feeds you.
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