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"Sudden Acceleration" claims - Valid or not?

  #1  
Old 11-03-2014, 06:34 AM
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Default "Sudden Acceleration" claims - Valid or not?

So, I'm shopping for a grown-up car for my wife. Her '97 BMW 528i is done for, long story. We've been shopping for several weeks now, and really haven't settled on anything just yet. Just doing lots of homework, about to start doing test drives.

One of the vehicles she's interested in is the Toyota Highlander. And to a lesser extent the Rav4 or Sequoia. I've been digging on these on carcomplaints.com and looks like the majority of the complaints are around the "Sudden Unintened Acceleration" thing that was in the news years ago. But, I also remember the NHTSA and Toyota more or less laying these complaints to rest. I believe Toyota put up a substantial cash reward for anyone who could find the source of the flaw, and nobody was ever able to claim it.

In the end, the media seems to be the only ones able to "validate" any claims with outrageous stories of death and dismemberment. There are several articles written with a "victim" bias, and a few more neutral articles generally revolving around lawsuits.

I read up on the design of these "Fly by wire" systems, and they seem really safe. There are dual position sensors on both the pedal and the throttle, and if they are ever out of sync between each other or on either end, the throttle shuts. The throttle is opened by a stepper motor, so even if there's a short it won't open. The throttle body is spring loaded, so if the stepper motor ever fails, it shuts.

That tells me that the only thing that can fail is A) The driver or B) The software.

I read the NHTSA/NASA investigation (here), and they tested these things 9 ways to sunday, and investigated specific cases. They said that in nearly every case, it was "pedal misapplication" AKA "Hitting the gas instead of the brake". The exceptions to that were a couple cases where the floor mat got jammed in the pedal.

I was asking a friend, a professional mechanic from whom I gained all of my mechanical chops, and he told me this story about one of his friends growing up (Yea, friend of a friend story, I know...) running his dad's car into a ditch.

He said that as the kid was turning, the engine stalled, the lights went out, the brakes failed, and the steering locked up. Turns out what happened was that he was coming into the corner too fast & slammed on the brakes (no ABS). The car was a manual, and when he locked up the brakes, it stalled the engine. This caused him to lose power brakes and power steering. As far as the headlights going out, when he ran off the road, the front of the car bounced up and took the headlight aim off the ground, so there was nothing being lit by them.

So, basically, the mechanical problems with the car were brought on by the driver not watching what they are doing. In the heat of the moment, details after the fact can be fuzzy. When I was in my motorcycle wreck, I thought I had been hit by a pink S10 Blazer. I was a bit surprised a few weeks later (after I got out of the hospital) to see accident scene photos showing a dark blue Ford F150. And of course there's the "The accident wasn't my fault, it was the car!" defense looks really good when there's a few dozen people claiming it.

So, I thought I'd throw it out to see if anyone has any input on this one way or another. Do you agree with the NHSTA/NASA summation that no major flaw exists except the floor mats? Or do you think the media is right, in that they are all covering it up? If there are any issues, will the Toyota dealer/service center be able to check and/or confirm these?
 
  #2  
Old 11-03-2014, 11:29 AM
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Difficult to make an individual finding when not having access to the data the NHSTA and NASA had.

The dealer can check for codes, etc, but they don't have access to the actual software coding nor can they modify it beyond a reflash or changing options to control door locks, etc.

Being a Toyota dealer, they will stick to whatever the Toyota official line is and this is to be expected as they didn't design or build the car. They sell and repair them.

Even with the best intentions corporations have been known to do a very poor PR job in response to a crisis and found themselves buried in negative PR and accusations of a cover up. Despite the PR spin corporations present, they can be extremely dysfunctional in nature! Toyota did pay out a billion dollar settlement and modified the gas pedal. But this could have been just to get beyond things and move on. Toyota has had a host of issues which affected sales and reputation.

Is this a cover up, a deliberate misleading of facts, or just the typical corporate one hand doesn't know (or often care) what the other is doing?

Media has a way of swaying the public to assume or do something they otherwise would not. After the media blitz, the number of reported unintended acceleration reports increased dramatically, what changed?

The basis problem is as you state, drivers have come to rely on power steering and power brakes, ABS, 4WD, etc, etc, etc. They may have never driven a vehicle without one or more of these features. Then when then engine dies, they panic instead of maintaining control and if required when safe, pulling over to the side of the road.

Plus today people are told to call 911. The reality can be they really are on their own and need to take action NOW rather then wait for assistance. Then there is the assumed problem factor. The car will not slow down therefore one can have a mindset that the issue must be this or that, rather then a floor mat.

Perhaps better driver education and training may help. Plus making cars less complicated in terms of media entertainment systems, GPS, etc. People are already distracted by texting, why add to this with complicated systems, but the trend is just the opposite for now.

It is just a car after all, the basics have not changed in many decades. It still requires an operator to keep it between the lines on the road, despite what Google says.
 
  #3  
Old 11-04-2014, 12:17 AM
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Notice how you don't hear about the sudden acceleration thing anymore? I think it was media hype.
 
  #4  
Old 03-11-2015, 11:09 PM
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I've always wondered about the 'unintended acceleration' cases. In the 80's, people claimed that the Audi 5000 had an unintended acceleration problem, after extensive research, it was deemed that the issue was due to people not being familiar with the pedal setup of the car, they were slightly offset to the left (I know this first hand, as a friend of mine drove a 5000 in HS). I assume Toyota's problem can also be attributed to driver error (I have a hard time believing that all affected Toyotas have been retrofitted after the recall). The other issue I wonder about is, even with unintended acceleration, you cannot overpower a car's brakes with the engine, unless you've been cooking the brakes to the point that they won't stop anymore. Unfortunately, blaming the problem on driver error isn't good PR.
 
  #5  
Old 03-11-2015, 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by rtuite View Post
So, I'm shopping for a grown-up car for my wife. Her '97 BMW 528i is done for, long story. We've been shopping for several weeks now, and really haven't settled on anything just yet. Just doing lots of homework, about to start doing test drives.

One of the vehicles she's interested in is the Toyota Highlander. And to a lesser extent the Rav4 or Sequoia. I've been digging on these on carcomplaints.com and looks like the majority of the complaints are around the "Sudden Unintened Acceleration" thing that was in the news years ago. But, I also remember the NHTSA and Toyota more or less laying these complaints to rest. I believe Toyota put up a substantial cash reward for anyone who could find the source of the flaw, and nobody was ever able to claim it.

In the end, the media seems to be the only ones able to "validate" any claims with outrageous stories of death and dismemberment. There are several articles written with a "victim" bias, and a few more neutral articles generally revolving around lawsuits.

I read up on the design of these "Fly by wire" systems, and they seem really safe. There are dual position sensors on both the pedal and the throttle, and if they are ever out of sync between each other or on either end, the throttle shuts. The throttle is opened by a stepper motor, so even if there's a short it won't open. The throttle body is spring loaded, so if the stepper motor ever fails, it shuts.

That tells me that the only thing that can fail is A) The driver or B) The software.

I read the NHTSA/NASA investigation (here), and they tested these things 9 ways to sunday, and investigated specific cases. They said that in nearly every case, it was "pedal misapplication" AKA "Hitting the gas instead of the brake". The exceptions to that were a couple cases where the floor mat got jammed in the pedal.

I was asking a friend, a professional mechanic from whom I gained all of my mechanical chops, and he told me this story about one of his friends growing up (Yea, friend of a friend story, I know...) running his dad's car into a ditch.

He said that as the kid was turning, the engine stalled, the lights went out, the brakes failed, and the steering locked up. Turns out what happened was that he was coming into the corner too fast & slammed on the brakes (no ABS). The car was a manual, and when he locked up the brakes, it stalled the engine. This caused him to lose power brakes and power steering. As far as the headlights going out, when he ran off the road, the front of the car bounced up and took the headlight aim off the ground, so there was nothing being lit by them.

So, basically, the mechanical problems with the car were brought on by the driver not watching what they are doing. In the heat of the moment, details after the fact can be fuzzy. When I was in my motorcycle wreck, I thought I had been hit by a pink S10 Blazer. I was a bit surprised a few weeks later (after I got out of the hospital) to see accident scene photos showing a dark blue Ford F150. And of course there's the "The accident wasn't my fault, it was the car!" defense looks really good when there's a few dozen people claiming it.

So, I thought I'd throw it out to see if anyone has any input on this one way or another. Do you agree with the NHSTA/NASA summation that no major flaw exists except the floor mats? Or do you think the media is right, in that they are all covering it up? If there are any issues, will the Toyota dealer/service center be able to check and/or confirm these?
Since when is a 5 Series not a grown up car? If we're talking new cars, I have to say, you'd need to be a bit more established, and financially stable, to purchase a 5 Series than you would need to be many other cars (yes, I realize a lot of people also lease those too, as well as buy used, but it doesn't sound like you're looking for a used car here).
 
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