Runaway Cars -- Oh Come On!

(Posted 3/11/2010) - OK, having driven manual transmission cars for over 45 years, I've had three instances where the clutch failed to disengage while the car was moving: Broken clutch cable on an older vehicle, and failed clutch hydralics on two later model Fords. Guess what my response was in every case? You got it; brake and reach for the ignition key to turn off the motor. In all three cases I merely moved the key from engine on to engine off (leaving the key in the ignition). I even experienced the 'stuck accelerator' situation (broken throttle plate spring) on an Olds 442 in '68 and just turned the ignition off. It took two of us to drive the thing home however; me hunched on the floor boards moving the gas pedal up and down while my buddy steered the car.

So why are we hearing all these horror stories about Toyo drivers who cannot seem to figure out over the course of minutes as they accelerate to 90+ speeds that all they have to do is turn off their car ignition?

And before you get all snotty and tell me I don't own a Toyota and don't know that the ignition cannot be turned off while the car is in drive -- here's Toyota's own instructions for a runaway vehicle for ALL MODELS:

  • If you need to stop immediately, step on the brake pedal with both feet using firm and steady pressure.
  • Do not pump the brake pedal as it will deplete the vacuum utilized for the power brake assist.
  • Shift the transmission to Neutral (N), and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road.
  • After you stop the car, turn off the engine.
  • If you can't put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF--even while moving. Your steering and brakes will continue to work, but they will require more effort because power assist will be lost.
  • If your car has an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly push the button for at least 3 seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the button.
  • If the vehicle has a conventional key-ignition, turn the key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel.

For those of you that believe your computer controlled motor will explode if you throw it into neutral while cruising -- try it and you'll find that the computer rev-limits the motor from exceeding it's red line.

So, why aren't folks able to turn off their ignitions? I think it comes down to one word -- ignorance! The only folks that get a pass are those that experience a failure that results in a crash in less than 10 seconds ... maybe they just couldn't get a foot on the brake in time to avoid smacking into what ever was in their path.

Driving down the highway for 10 minutes with your car trying to accelerate all the while and not thinking to turn off the motor is just plain inexcusable. Sure the vendor needs to fix the problem and any damages to your property; but if you cannot figure out how to switch off that demon car then you shouldn't be driving it -- period.

I suspect Toyota will end up paying out on average more than $10 million per fatality attributed to their runaway cars -- even though most of them were likely avoidable if the driver had used just a modicum of common sense (i.e. turn off that motor).

This fellow drove his car into a pile of rocks on the road that was clearly visible because as he said "I just didn't see 'em". With people driving who can't see 10 tons of rocks in the roadway is it any surprise that there are also people who can't turn their ignition off in an emergency?

Added 3/19/10: An ABC news report cited below implies the unintended acceleration problem resides with Toyota's Engine Control Unit (a computer). However, an independent test service says the 'test' used by ABC was fallacious and not remotely possible in the real world. See how the 'press' mucks up the facts in favor of 'if it bleeds it leads' style journalism........

ABC news story link with embedded video.

Toyota response via independent testing firm Exponent.

Conclusion? The jury is still out on Toyota's unintended acceleration issue -- but my monies on driver error for 99.9% of these accidents.