Toyota’s Pinto Memo Moment.

Share Button

How do you stop an out-of-control Toyota from killing you? Shift into neutral or turn off the car…. Duh!

Seriously, I find this video advise troubling on a few different levels.

First – Have we all grown so inept and over-lawyer’d that we need a video from the  company to to tell us this? Sadly, the answer is probably “Yes”.  And why does the “two feet on the bake pedal” bit smack of  “OMG, I’m Gonna Die!”

Second – Two feet on the brake pedal is never a good idea. And from the accounts I’ve read, the brakes didn’t seem to slow the cars anyway. Here is something else to note – I’m guessing that all these cars have anti-lock brake systems on them. But if you turn off the ignition, doesn’t that also turn off the anti-lock braking system?

Third – This fatal crash involved a police officer, a guy who is superbly trained to handle a car that is going fast and also in defensive driving. He would have much better reflexes and step on the brakes, per Toyota’s advise, quicker than the other drivers in the crashes mentioned above. If this expert driver can’t get the car stopped, then what hope do us mere mortals have?

Toyota is really really screwed here.  An internal memo has been unearthed that brags how the company saved $110 million by avoiding a larger recall. This is eerily similar to Ford’s notorious “Pinto Memo” that offered the price for fix vs the cost of litigation trade-off.

The “floor mats did it” excuse just doesn’t wash with me.

Think for a minute about how you normally drive. To go faster, you press on the gas pedal just enough to reach the desired speed. You rarely depress the pedal to the floor to achieve this result (unless you’re a teenager or twenty-something showing off to your friends). Theoretically, the accelerator pedal COULD get stuck on a floor mat. But if that happened, that would cause the car to maintain it’s current speed, much like the vacuum controlled cruise control does. You would only get the hard acceleration that has been the hallmark of these crashes if, in each instance, the driver of the car had floored the gas pedal, and that is where the pedal got stuck. That is simply not the case in the crashes being reported.

I work on cars, and am in the process of replacing an engine in my Subaru. As a spa technician, I have a boatload of experience diagnosing electrical equipment, including complex electrical systems. When spa manufacturers switched from simple mechanical relays to control the various spa function, such as jets, blower, and heating systems, to computer controlled circuits, they did increase the efficiency of the systems, but also introduced  complexity which introduced a whole new set of possible failures into the system. Sometimes the problems are easy to fix. But sometimes they are elusive, especially when you’re dealing with computer controlled components. It is very difficult to find a problem when it is intermittent. The Toyota problem falls right into that category.

Every fiber in my being says the  “floor mat” fix is not going to relieve the problem. Neither is the newer “acceleration override” solution, because the underlying problem still exists. I’m not against having the new extra safeguard, but there will almost certainly be rear-end collisions if this newer “safety feature” engages while you’re driving on a freeway. And by adding even more complexity, you run the risk of creating another problem. Who is going to want to buy a Toyota using the same systems that may still have the original problem? Remember that consumers can have very long memories. Even though the US manufacturers are proven to be long way better that they were quality wise, and their products are on par with anything else on the market, there are still many who will not buy an American car because they still equate the new cars made by them to the crap they put out during the 70’s.

The best solution, in my opinion, is to go back to the old fashioned system, where the acceleration is directly controlled by a cable running from the accelerator pedal to the throttle body that directly controls the gas / air mixture. It’s tried and true technology, and is almost certainly cheaper than the electronics used in the current crop of cars having these problems.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply