To read the headlines, one would think the problem with cars suddenly accelerating on their own is a problem recently discovered in late model Toyotas. But reports of these occurrences have been around for years, and involved many cars other than Toyotas.
"I got into my car and turned on the ignition. I put the car in reverse. The car rocketed backward into a telephone pole," Terri Moore, of Seattle, reported to ConsumerAffairs.com back in 2005.
And it should be noted that Terri was not driving a Toyota, but a Saturn Vue. At the time, we reported that more than 20,000 consumers had complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of sudden acceleration since the late 1980s, when more and more vehicles were being outfitted with electronic-based controls.
In the incident described above, Moore said she put the car in drive and tried to inch away from the telephone pole she had hit, only to have the car rocket forward. NHTSA investigated many of the incidents like Moore's and concluded it was the drivers' fault. Drivers mistakenly stomp on gas pedals instead of the brakes, the agency ruled at the time.
Sorry, can't recreate the problem
"The research I have done indicates the NHTSA cannot recreate the problem," Moore said. "So NHTSA has concluded there is no problem. In the meanwhile, people are getting injured and killed."
After launching an investigation of reports of sudden acceleration in Toyotas during the early 2000s, NHTSA reported in 2004 that it was unable to find a cause for the problem. The agency said it analyzed many of the cars involved in the mishaps and found nothing abnormal with the throttle controls.
Interestingly, the 30 Toyota incidents NHTSA investigated for its 2004 involved Toyota Camry and Lexus ES models, which are among those now being recalled. Once again NHTSA pointed to the driver. The agency said sudden surges are sometimes caused by drivers who are unfamiliar with their new vehicles.
Also in 2005 Ross, of West Hollywood, reported a similar problem with his 2001 Ford Expedition, and said he got a similar shrug from the dealer.
'Jumps like a bull'
"The car, when stopped at an intersection or stoplight, will without warning, feed an unprecedented amount of gas to the engine ... The car jumps forward like a bull waiting to get out of the gates. I have my foot on the brake when this happens so I know I am not stepping on the gas. Even with my foot on the brake, the power of the engine dominates the brakes and the car jumps forward anywhere from 1 to 10 feet," Ross said.
"The fourth time it happened was severe and the car almost hit a much smaller car in front of me. If I hit them, they could have hit the pedestrians in front of them. I had a passenger and after this occurred he insisted on getting out of the car and would not ride with me again in that car," he said.
Ross said the dealer could find nothing wrong.
"They do not seem concerned that they are forcing a dangerous car back on the road. They only seemed concerned with their payment and giving me back the car," he said.
In 2008 more than 400 consumers complained to NHTSA about unintended and sudden acceleration in the Tacoma pickup. Reports to the agency documented 51 crashes and 12 injuries.
Picking on Toyota?
Nevertheless, Toyota complained in a letter to the agency that the Tacoma is the focus of hostile media coverage as well as consumers exaggerating their problems.
"Toyota believes that it is likely that many of the consumer complaints about the general issue of unwanted acceleration as well as many of the complaints about this subject that have been received by Toyota were inspired by publicity," the automaker wrote NHTSA in the 2008 letter.
Toyota suggested in the letter to safety regulators that consumers are overstating the unintended acceleration problem with the Tacoma, which the automaker described as minor engine speed changes. But a ConsumerAffairs.com reader and Toyota Tacoma owner in Weaver, Alabama reported a different story. "It was jumping forward toward my house at every engine turn. I pushed in the clutch and took out the key," he said.
Acceleration is controlled in the Tacoma by a drive-by-wire system with a computer replacing the traditional linkage between the accelerator pedal and the engine throttle-body which injects the fuel required for acceleration.
Toyota claimed the Tacoma computer can capture an error report if accelerator pedal and throttle are not working properly and the automaker said no error codes have turned up in vehicles inspected by Toyota technicians.
Toyota's popular hybrid, the Prius, has also been the source of numerous sudden acceleration complaints since the mid 2000s. In 2006 ConsumerAffairs.com reported the case of a Prius lunging out of control on a Michigan highway. At the time, the incident was the second known incident involving uncontrolled acceleration in the Prius. The driver of the 2005 Prius, Herbert of Battle Creek, Michigan, reported speeding up while passing a slower vehicle on the highway. The problem began after he passed the slower car and tried to slow down.
"I let off the accelerator and pressed the brakes several times, but the vehicle continued to accelerate under full power," Herbert said at the time.
Toyota recalled the Prius hybrids to examine the software and reported no anomalies. Yet, the reports from drivers continued to arrive at ConsumerAffairs.com. And two years later, the Office of Defect Investigation, a division of NHTSA, investigated a similar uncontrolled acceleration report in the 2008 Toyota Sienna.
"The Complainant reported that he applied the accelerator pedal to accelerate the vehicle and experienced unwanted acceleration upon release," ODI reported on its Web site.
Not just Toyota
While Toyotas have figured prominently in reports of sudden acceleration over the years, other models have also been affected.
"My wife pulled our 2004 V8 Jeep Grand Cherokee, into the day care to pick up our toddler and put the gear in park after coming to a stop," Vasanthi, of San Jose, Calif., wrote in March 2009. "The Jeep suddenly accelerated and shot forward, with her foot tightly on the brake, and went over a concrete block, through a fence and into the yard on the other side."
ConsumerAffairs.com has received sudden acceleration complaints over the years from a wide range of makes, including Kia, Jaguar, BMW and Ford. In fact, a December 2009 analysis of NHTSA complaints by Consumer Reports found Ford produced the second largest number of sudden acceleration reports after Toyota.
Consumers Say Sudden Acceleration Problems Nothing New...