Was Toyota Premature in Its Diagnosis of ‘Unintended Acceleration’?

“I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car, and it just did something kind of funny…and it just stuck there. As I was going, I was trying the brakes…and it just kept speeding up.” These are the words of Jim Sikes, whose 2008 Toyota Prius sped up to 90 mph, after the accelerator became stuck. Sikes had just taken his Prius to his dealership two weeks ago to be serviced and was told his car was not on the recall list. (CNN.com-Driver: My Prius took me for a ride-3/08/2010)

This new incident raises concerns about just what is causing these Toyota accelerators to stick? Toyota denies that the problem stems from their electronic systems. On Monday Toyota refuted an ABC News report, aired on Feb. 22nd, which demonstrates plausibility that a stuck accelerator could have an electronic cause.

David W. Gilbert was able to make a Toyota Avalon surge by causing a short in the wires that transmit signals from the gas pedal to the engine computer. In doing this, Gilbert shows that the diagnostic system does not detect the error in the circuit. So far, Toyota has maintained the problem is due to floor mats and a mechanical flaw in the gas pedal. (WSJ.com-Toyota Slams ABC Report on Pedals by Neal Boudette-3/09/2010)

Toyota maintains that Gilbert’s demonstration was not a real world simulation. “You cannot rewire a circuit and expect it to behave the way it was designed,” said a Stanford professor, J. Christopher Gerdes. Toyota has hired their own engineering firm, Exponent Inc., to refute David Gilbert’s bold claims. (WSJ.com-ibid)

Yet it is not so clear how much good Toyota’s hired gun (Exponent Inc.) really did them. Matthew Schwall, an engineer with Exponent, was able to cause a BMW 325 sedan to speed up, by using the same method used by Mr. Gilbert. Ironically, the computer on this BMW did not generate a fault code that would tell the vehicle to stop. This simply strengthens Mr. Gilbert’s case, that the acceleration could be electrical, and there is no record of it. (WSJ.com-ibid)

“In general, Exponent’s report mischaracterizes Dr. Gilbert’s findings, but it does validate his primary findings-Toyota’s fail-safe system does not always detect critical errors or go into fail-safe mode as the company has claimed.” This is a statement released yesterday from Safety Research & Strategies, the consulting firm that hired Professor Gilbert. (The New York Times-Toyota Says It’s Repairs Work, Done Properly by Nick Bunkley-March 8, 2010)

When Toyota recalled more than eight million vehicles, they may have been premature in their diagnosis of the problem. So far, technicians have been inserting a small steel shim into the pedal assembly, as they believed there to be mechanical flaws in the pedal. The other primary diagnosis they have come up with is some pedals are too long, and get stuck under the floor mat. (The New York Times-ibid)

However, there have been reports of more than 60 cases of Toyota cars, which already had the adjustments made to the cars, yet are again experiencing unintended acceleration. This is at least a sign that Toyota’s diagnosis of the problem is flawed. Regarding the floor mat theory, Jim Sikes, the owner of the runaway Prius in San Diego Monday, said: “My mat was perfect. There was nothing wrong with my mat.” (CNN.com-ibid)

The Prius case on Monday may be ‘Pandora’s Box’ as far as the troubles Toyota may soon experience. A case of a fatal car crash that occurred in 2006 is being looked at again. Koua Fong Lee is serving eight years for vehicular homicide. Three people were killed when his Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated to between 70 and 90 mph.

“I know that lives were lost that day, but I did everything within my power to try to stop that vehicle.” These are words of Koua Fong Lee from his prison cell. (CNN.com-‘Toyota defense’ could reverse criminal conviction by Emanuella Grinsberg)

Fortunately, the Camry is impounded and is still intact; it can be retested for the acceleration issue’s that plague so many of these cars. I just read some most recent statistics provided to regulators and they are startling! 52 fatalities and 38 injuries in accidents are attributed to Toyotas that have experienced unexpected acceleration.

Toyota’s new PR campaign to counter their recently tarnished reputation may have backfired on Monday, when Jim Sikes’ Prius took him on a hell ride across a California Highway. He just barely escaped with his life! But his harrowing tale went viral on the internet and viral on broadcast news, casting grave doubts about Toyota’s diagnosis of bad pedals and faulty floor mats. I’ll just stick with my 1999 Ford F-150 for now.