Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do a search on "NHTSA" and "Pedal Misapplication".

When the Audi 5000 story ("I was pressing the brake as hard as I could and the car hurtled demonically through a playground full of orphans and right into a nunnery!") hit 60 Minutes back in the day, I demonstrated its basic fallacy to friends by climbing behind the wheel of my Dodge Coronet, pointing right into the apartment, and flooring the gas pedal with the brakes pressed to the floor. The Mopar V-8, which had a starter motor more potent than the Audi five-banger, was easily held stationary by the pathetic drum brakes that possessed a mere fraction of the braking power provided by the 4-wheel discs on the Kraut sedan.

If I’d screwed up behind the wheel, I’d like to think I'd have the integrity to admit it, rather than go play “pin-the-tail-on-the-scapegoat”, which the owner of this ‘96 Camry, (equipped with neither ECB nor ECT,) is obviously trying to do.

I’m sure he’s found a lawyer who doesn’t know a master cylinder from a throttle position sensor to take his case, though.


(H/T to Unc.)

41 comments:

BryanP said...

When all this started I told a friend "Watch, every Toyota owner in a fender bender is going to claim it was runaway acceleration."

Anonymous said...

Carp and Drivel magazine did a test on several brands of cars and was able to stop every one of them, even the 500+hp monsters with nothing more than the brakes. There's also that thing called the ignition key, or flicking the shift lever into neutral. Back in the day I hooked my foot under the brake pedal of a Fiat 850 trying to get off the gas (I was hot rodding and going too fast) ended up hitting the front of a parts store. New car, I worked for dealer, but not for much longer. Never thought to blame the pedal placement, darn, should have. Larry Weeks

Nathan said...

"Yes, the dumb buggers stepped on the gas instead of the brake."

There is nothing new under the sun.

Anonymous said...

"The 1996 Camry isn’t part of Toyota’s recent massive recall, but it was subject to a separate recall in the 1990s due to sudden acceleration related to the cruise control feature."

FWIW, I had something similar happen in 2003 while driving my wife's late 90s vintage Grand Prix in rush hour traffic on I66 (DC area). I got it under control without hitting anyone, but it certainly caused a bit of seat cushion pucker.

Chris

Turk Turon said...

A disproportionate number of "uncontrolled acceleration" accidents involve elderly drivers.

Pathfinder said...

Maybe this has nothing to do with the cars themselves, but rather that:
1) Toyota is the leading car manufacturer in this country, and
b) the gummint is now in the car business and really hates competition.

Any chance this is just the gummint abusing its powers over everyone? Harbinger of things to come?

theirritablearchitect said...

Pathfinder,

If you are correct (I'm not yet going to be breaking out my red flag), then watch for Ford to get thrown under the bus next.

Will said...

Braking systems are rated by horsepower. Don't see the spec very often. IIRC, 600hp is common. There were damn few factory cars that could overpower their brakes on the drive axles, let alone all 4 wheels. My '71 Mustang, with close to 500hp, could melt the rear drums, but it could barely slide the front tires with locked up disc brakes. An auto trans with a low 4.11 Detroit Locker equipped rear end helped with the melting. (speaking from experience-left the parking brake on)
When they nearly ruined Audi with that bullshit, I was dumbfounded. That was when I realized the media was playing games with their audience.

Tam said...

Personally, I burst out laughing every time a newscaster uses the words "Prius" and "acceleration" in the same sentence. It has that whole "jumbo shrimp" ring to it...

tomcatshanger said...

Is there something stopping these folks from taking their transmissions out of drive other than negligence?

Mark B. said...

Their brains -- no innate ability to react situationally.

FWIW, back in the day I drove a few Audis while working at an automobile dealership. I always thought, and still do, that the pedal placement on the 4000 and 5000 series cars sucked out loud. IN MY OPINION ONLY!!!, the krauts screwed the pooch with the ergos on those sleds.

'Berg

Ken said...

I remember O'Rourke riffing on this in Parliament of Whores.

O'Rourke noted that the pedal placement on the 4000 was pretty close to that of the Mercury Grand Marquis, which was #2 on the list of Sudden Unintended Acceleration incidents, and both were a lot wider than the Honda CRX, which was waaaay down the list. (I never had a CRX but I did have an '86 Ford EXP for a while -- not particularly sturdy or reliable, but fun to drive.)

PoW was also where I first encountered the terms "addled plushbottom" and "Mercury Medicare sled."

Hollowpoint1938 said...

Does anyone remember the same problem with Volvo 940s back "in the day'? FWIW, here's a list of recalls from that era, several of which were "sudden acceleration" instances.
http://www.autosafety.org/srr/SAEURO.pdf

Also, is there any data showing correlation between these recent incidents and use of cruise control?

Robert said...

"Is there something stopping these folks from taking their transmissions out of drive other than negligence?"

A lot of the newer cars no longer have a mechanical link from the shifter to the transmission, so in theory an electrical problem *could* prevent you from placing the car into neutral. I don't think this is the case for 96 Camry's though I might be wrong.

Nathan said...

"I remember O'Rourke riffing on this in Parliament of Whores."

Indeed: "Yes, the dumb buggers stepped on the gas instead of the brake."

Bram said...

I heard the 911 call from the Lexus that went into an intersection at 120 mph. It sure sounds like the brakes were not functioning properly.

On the other hand, putting the car in nuetral, shutting it off, or pulling the parking brake doesn't seem to have occurred to them.

Robert said...

The lady in the Lexus claims she tried all gear positions with no effect, and that she did pull the parking brake. I've no idea if her Lexus was one of the "pushbutton start" types, which require holding down the button for several seconds to turn off while under way. Most people wouldn't take one hand off the steering wheel to hold down the pushbutton for that length of time while doing 120MPH. I've driven cars on racetracks at speeds well over 120, so I know what it's like, but most people have never gone over 80 MPH or so.

Cars can experience "brake fade" with repeated rapid or long use of the brakes (perhaps by riding the brakes all the way down a steep long hill), but I doubt that this would be the case in any of these scenarios.

Robert said...

Oh, and I know well enough that someone can stomp on the gas instead of the brake. I once was a passenger when the driver did that. He was not paying attention and was headed right at a stop sign. I alerted him to this fact, and instead of turning left to miss the sign, he turned right and stomped on the gas of his 4 barrel 350ci 1971 Camaro, causing it to hurtle over an 8 inch concrete curb, tear through a credit union drive-thru the wrong way, miss hitting the brick wall of the building, then back over the 8 inch curb before he had the presence of mind to remove his foot from the accelerator. Left him with a completely messed up suspension, 4 flat tires and bent rims. I had been holding a recently purchased large chocolate milkshake which was deposited over every square inch of the interior, including us...

Ken said...

Nathan, another passage went something like, "Suddenly Audis were leaping and cavorting like Shamu in driveways across America, while the sky turned legal-pad yellow in a blizzard of lawsuits."

Anonymous said...

I had the throttle stick wide open on a 1966 Chrysler T&C wagon (5,000 lbs curb weight) once, due to a frayed throttle cable. After a split second of being startled, I turned off the goddamned ignition. I didn't have to test the over-sized towing package brakes' ability to overcome the 4bbl V8's full output because the ENGINE WAS SHUT DOWN. Big freakin' deal. So I got a new cable for a few dollars and installed it along the street curb. -- Lyle

theirritablearchitect said...

"...both were a lot wider than the Honda CRX," which also was usually sporting a manual transmission.

It can't be that that bit had anything to do with it, could it?

Blackwing1 said...

I'm with Mark B, the ergonomic placement of the pedals on those Audis sucked. My sister owned one for a while, and I had to move it around the parking area at my folks house. Sat down in the driver's seat, fired it up, and had to actually look to find the durned gas pedal.

Once I got it moving backwards I took it out of gear, then went to tap the brake...and hit the gas instead. Right then and there I made my own judgment call that ALL of the "unintended acceleration" stuff was that much BS, having just done it myself. Fortunately for me tapping the gas instead of the brake with the car already out of gear didn't do anything other than rev-up the engine a little.

I don't know what's going on with the Toyota stuff, but I doubt that it could be a vast left-wing conspiracy. They can't even conspire to keep Slow Joe Biden from continuous gaffes, much less hundreds of people to keep their mouths shut about something like this.

Anonymous said...

I had an '87 VW Fox that would stick the gas pedal every time I floored it for the last two ears I owned it. I just didn't floor it, and if I screwed up, I'd just pull over and pop the hood and tap the cam under the air cleaner. No big deal. It was a stick shift and that made it easy.
That car had another fun trait - if you hit the brakes hard, or pushed on the steering wheel the horn would blow. Something was shorted in the steering column and I never fixed it. I finally junked it after 250K or so and it wouldn't pass NJ pollution inspection.

Tam said...

"I heard the 911 call from the Lexus that went into an intersection at 120 mph. It sure sounds like the brakes were not functioning properly."

Unlike the '96 Camry which this post is about, the Lexus in question could perhaps have been fitted with Toyota's ECB system, which is indeed "brake-by-wire". Since I am not a journalist, lawyer, or congresscritter, I will not pretend to understand how it could interface with the rest of the electronics in a fail-dangerous mode.

tickmeister said...

My 2007 Ford F-150 has a pedal placement problem, the brake and gas pedal are almost the same height and close together. Several times I have hit the brake and been momentarily puzzled because I didn't slow down. Never a real danger, because the brake has to be partially engaged before my foot hits the gas. Not sure why a sane engineer would design something like that.


I knew a guy who was killed back in the old days when the throttle cable stuck on a hopped up dune buggy and pitched him into a parked car. It can happen.

Tam said...

Tickmeister,

In a manual transmission car, you want the gas and brake fairly close together so that you can hit them both with the heel and toe of the same foot while the other works the clutch. Not as necessary in a cowboy Cadillac with a granny gearchanger.

The answer to a stuck throttle cable (it happened a lot to DeLoreans on icy mornings, BTW) is to A)hit the brakes, or B) take the car out of gear and maneuver to the shoulder.

I should someday tell the story of the time the clutch lever fell of my VF700F Interceptor at ~100mph in the fast lane of GA400 northbound...

TOTWTYTR said...

Listening to Fox News this afternoon, they had three daughters whose mother died in an Toyota "unintended acceleration" accident.

What they describe, from witness statements is the classic "The harder I pressed on the brake, the faster the car went.", story of people who hit the gas instead of the brakes. None of which will stop their lawsuit.

BTW, 32 of the Democrats holding the Toyota hearings took campaign money from the UAW. Sounds like a clear cut conflict of interest to me.

Tam said...

Right now there's a guy from the .gov in Ford's offices, knocking over vases and saying things like "Dis is a nice car comp'ny ya got here. Be a shame if sumpin' bad happened to it."

Will said...

Bram, IIRC, that unstoppable car was a dealer courtesy car, the driver had never driven one before, it has a button you have to hold in for three seconds to kill the engine, you can't shift into neutral, and the driver was an off duty CHP officer with his family on board. Supposed to have been an improper floor mat that caused the problem. Haven't heard anything since. Big engine Lexus, capable of impressive acceleration numbers.

wv: ingeri, more than that

Nathan said...

Ken: Yes, and there was a phrase to the effect of "on a clear day, you can almost see the accelerator from the brake". I think he was talking about some sort of Mercury land yacht. Ah, yes...it was the Mercury Marquis. "It's worth noting (and the NHTSA report did note it) that the Honda Civic's pedal placement is nearly identical with the Audi 5000's, yet the Civic got few SAI complaints. On the other hand, the Mercury Marquis — where, on a clear day you can almost see the accelerator from the brake — was in the SAI top ten. We don't need a '60 Minutes' investigative team to tell us what kind of person buys a little Honda rice rocket and what kind of person buys a huge Mercury Medicare sled."

GeorgeH said...

Did no one ever hear of 'neutral'?
The Audi did have a problem with the 4000 and 5000. I was in the passenger seat a couple of times and could look over to see both the drivers feet on the brake pedal wile the car tried to surge. 'Neutral' and a keyswitch to 'off' will fix anything.

Sendarius said...

I was mulling over this issue, and concluded:

1) Some modern cars have MOST functions controlled by computer - brakes, cruise, throttle, gear selection, starter, ignition, injection.
2) If all these functions were run by a single computer, then in the event of an ECU brain-fart, it would be possible that the system IGNORED all inputs (or more precisely, never got around to responding because the control program was in a tight loop trying to get the cruise-maintained speed to Vmax.)

Conclusion? It is POSSIBLE that the anecdotes are true- at least for very new cars - but I want more information before I believe it.

Tam said...

"Some modern cars have MOST functions controlled by computer - brakes..."

Only two manufacturers have used "brake-by-wire": Toyota and M-B.

Mercedes has discontinued it on all but a few high-end models and Toyota has only used it on Lexii in the US market, AFAIK.

Joseph said...

TOTWTYTR-

I do feel that this is a witch hunt, an attempt to throw the market in favor of domestic auto makers. I don't think it's an accident that such actions are going to benefit the UAW (who donated to Obama) and GM and Chrysler (which the US govt. part owns).

Too bad the gov't can't investigate itself...this would be illegal six ways from Sunday.

All auto makers have problems at times. Very sad that people are killed. You are talking about 30-40 killed in the space of 10 years...a tragedy, but with so many cars on the road it does take a number of incidents for a problem to show up on the radar.

bluntobject said...

Personally, I burst out laughing every time a newscaster uses the words "Prius" and "acceleration" in the same sentence. It has that whole "jumbo shrimp" ring to it...

Come on, that's not fair. A Prius will accelerate just fine -- at 9.82m/s^2 towards the centre of the Earth, just like everything else.

*grumblegrumble*CVT*grumble*

tickmeister said...

Tam, the F-150 is an automatic, so no heel and toe needed. I've always used that technique for starting sticks up a hill. Learned it with a 1951 Buick roadmaster with a straight 8 and a 3 speed on the column. (Nostalgic sigh)

Dr. StrangeGun said...

I had an issue with the gas pedal on that Omni GLH once. A bolt backed out of the carburettor base and interfered with the throttle linkage.

Unfortunately it was hanging the throttle *shut* and I limped it home under 0-60 times of around 40-45 seconds. Actually it wasn't hanging, it was serving as a throttle stop....


Leave it to me to have a problem with *intentional* acceleration... but toyota's issues are real. I was thinking about it and they may have an RFI problem with their control modules, you can look up the models with electric power steering on google and a lot are exhibiting jerky steering or sudden hard left/right pulls, that are demonstrably caused when a cellphone in 'tower acknowledge' mode is near the dash.

But the UI issue?
-must hold a button down for several seconds to shut the engine off
-may not be allowed to shut the engine off without the transmission in drive or park (have heard this, need confirmation)
-not allowed to place the transmission in park or neutral when throttle is applied (needs verification)
-malfunction is ecu seeing false throttle application
-ABS system may be reserved for traction control system at or above particular throttle input (my own speculation) removing some effectiveness
=car takes off, won't let you shift out, which won't let you turn it off, and the brakes may possibly not be as efficient as during normal cruise.

And a word as to drum vs. disc brakes: There's MUCH MUCH MUCH more pad contact area on even small drum brakes than there is with disc brakes. Drum brakes actually have far greater braking power than discs.... once. Maybe twice. They can't shed heat anywhere close to what a disc can, so they fade extremely quickly. Drums also self-energize, where leverage and drag work together to help push the shoes into the drum surface, which helps bring the braking forces up a little when warm to hot. that can have it's own set of drawbacks...

My father had a '72 comet far, far longer than it wanted to live (his specialty; driving until the engine dies, then throwing *anything* else in from the scrapyard. 200 I6 auto, 289 auto, 302 4 speed (was nice), 250 auto, whatever worked). One day he left from work on a damp, but not wet day. he drove slow when starting out (choke issues), and when he got to the first stop light he pressed the brakes... and 3 of 4 wheels immediately completely locked up, much to the chagrin of the police officer in the next lane. 4 wheel drum brakes were a little wet with condensation and grabbed pretty violently.

reflectoscope said...

I can live with the idea of throttle-by-wire if I can't get a vehicle without it, but I'll be damned if I'll buy something with brake-by-wire.

Like I said at Peter's, perhaps this will mark the renaissance of the manual transmission. (Hey, a man can hope.) (Look at that, I used the word hope and it didn't sound like a four letter word for once.)

Jim

staghounds said...

I wonder how many complaints/reports Toyota hadf about this that wewre both pre-MSM coverage AND not connected to any accident?

That to me is the test. If my car suddenly goes off, and I don't hit something, I'm parking it and calling the dealer. Did this ever happen?

Sort of like guns "going off"- does it ever happen when there are no people within arm's reach?

DOuglas2 said...

The 911-call loaner Lexus had been spotted driving with erratic speed earlier on the highway and also stopped on the shoulder. It's pretty evident to me that the driver knew that there was a problem, and just tried to control the speed of the car with the brakes right up until the point where they had faded enough to be useless.
Floor-mat or not, I don't think it is Toyota's fault if someone who should know better drives an obviously broken car and boils the brakes until they fail.

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I burst out laughing every time a newscaster uses the words "Prius" and "acceleration" in the same sentence. It has that whole "jumbo shrimp" ring to it..."

I believe Al Gore son was arrested for going 100 mph in his Prius in Baja Norte. That was the most impressive thing any Gore had done in my lifetime.

Gerry