By on December 7, 2009

How retro. (courtesy:jimmypribble.com)

We thought we’d seen the last of the unintended acceleration crazes come and go for good nearly two decades ago. We were wrong. Somehow, like Camaros, Chrysler bailouts and Whitney Houston, the phenomenon has clawed its way back into the American consciousness this year. Consumer Reports even devotes an entire study to the number of unintended acceleration complaints lodged against the 2008 model-year with the NHTSA. Unsurprisingly, the big winner was Toyota, with 41 percent of the complaints, Ford came in second with 28 percent while Chrysler had nine percent. But wait, how many cases were there in total? Only 166? So, of the 2.2m vehicles Toyota sold in 2008, a total of 52 complaints were lodged about a phenomenon with no good mechanical explanation… and Consumer Reports wants us to believe that this is statistically significant?

CR writes:

Toyota has announced several steps it is taking to mitigate the risks of floor-mat entrapment and provide “smart throttle” technology (allowing the brake pedal to override the accelerator), but our analysis indicates other problems likely exist.

Hey, same here. Only our analysis says that unintended acceleration is caused by stupid drivers, a problem that no number of gizmos will ever fix. But rather than call it like it is, CR is using their study to scare folks with the prospect that their Toyota might just become possessed by some mysterious force and kill everything in its path. “It looks like the problem may be beyond floor mats,” CR’s Jeff Bartlett tells the LA Times, which in turn shamelessly propagates the allegedly mystery behind unintended acceleration. Instead of scaremongering, CR should take off the tin foil chapeau and try demonstrating some kind of causality behind this phantom menace. Or better yet, they should help remind people that cars don’t unintentionally accelerate, people do.

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41 Comments on “Surprise! Toyota Wins Unintended Acceleration Sweepstakes...”


  • avatar
    majo8

    And this is the publication that so many put faith in?

    Truly hilarious……….

  • avatar
    segfault

    “Toyota Wins Unintended Acceleration Sweepstakes” – so tell us, what’s their prize?

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Statistically significant?  The chi-square is indeed highly significant, rejecting the null hypothesis that complaints are proportional to manufacturer market share.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      It’s called human factors, if an average schmo meeting the minimum requirements to keep a drivers license and pay for a late model automobile can’t make the car go when they want and stop when they want, there’s something wrong with the design. It’s a product intended for the mainstream general public, appealing heavily to people over 55–not a race car.

      Just like if you had to be an NFL linebacker to have the leg strength to stop the car.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I disagree that unintended acceleration is necessarily “caused by stupid drivers.”  You could call someone undertrained for failing to get out of that situation, but for causing it? 
    I dunno.
    Besides, the manufacturers have to work with the existing laws… they can’t write special requirements for driving their cars and they wouldn’t want to give up a portion of the market anyway.  Idiot-proofing a car is a huge part of design (because idiot-proofing generally makes a car more intuitive to use for non-idiots, if you believe there is such thing).  This only seems to be a problem with a few companies, which means all the others did a better job.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Yes…. This is indeed the publication that so many put faith in. Yeah the very same people that gave Toyota a free pass,for how long?

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    Oh don’t you be making fun of Con-sumer Retorts! We have already concluded on another topic that CR’s statisticians are at least as good as the Nelsen ratings! Ya really!  LOL!

    Wow, do you really think that CR would spin their magazine articles to placate the majority of their readers?  What are they going to do for all of those Toyota buyers who they con-vinced with those little red circles… When they all turn back next year, were they producing statistically biased reports last year or will next years report be biased?

  • avatar
    Ron

    Telegraph Row is correct about the problem being statistically significant. Certainly it was to the drivers who found their cars out of control.

    In recent years most driver’s manuals have exceeded 200 pages in length. I bought a car recently and read every word twice. After decades of operating a car with a key, I’m sure I won’t remember in a panic situation to press my key fob into the dashboard for three full seconds or to put the transmission into neutral, at least not while I’m trying to steer the car away from hitting pedestrians. As TTAC loves to point out, Toyotas are for people who just want to get from here to there. They have to be designed for this kind of driver.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      After decades of operating a car with a key, I’m sure I won’t remember in a panic situation to press my key fob into the dashboard for three full seconds or to put the transmission into neutral, at least not while I’m trying to steer the car away from hitting pedestrians. 

      Do you think you could remember to  press down on the brake and hold it down? If not, please stop driving.
      Regarding the push button: Perhaps the ignition key IS a design that shouldn’t be changed (although I disagree). But even with a federally standardized ignition key shutoff, they will still be people who mistake the accelerator for the brake.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    I think Ed has a good point. 55 out of 2.2 million cars is .0025%. Is that a defective design?

    The numbers may be a little different, but the point is valid. This is a rare problem getting more attention than it should.

  • avatar
    Corky Boyd

    My local paper carried a wire service story on another Toyota glitch.  Cars are “stalling” and then hard to start.  NHTSA to the rescue.  They are launching an investigation of the 26 reports pf this problem.   26 REPORTS!!!   Did any of them just run out of gas???

    I think the administration is using  NHTSA to harrass Toyota, just as they tried to use the National Endowwment for the Arts to promote Obama’s agenda (and got caught).  The editor of Consumers Report is totally in the bag for Obama,  just read his monthly column.  Every column is a democrat talking point.   I also notice GM products which were almost always rated worse the average are now remarkably scoring much higher.

    Toyota of all manufacturers is devoted to quality.  Their problem with the administration is they don’t use UAW labor and won’t.  All the propaganda in the world from government regulatory agencies  and stories in the compliant media can’t overcome the quality loss the UAW causes GM.  This will keep up until the White House changes hads in 2012.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Yes…. This is indeed the publication that so many put faith in. Yeah the very same people that gave Toyota a free pass,for how long?
     
    So, were they giving Toyota a free pass when they delisted the Camry and 4Runner?  Were they being anti-domestic when they lauded the Lambdas and the Fusion?  Which is it?
     
    I think Consumer Reports is reasonably accurate, and that people have far too much emotional investment in their particular brand.  Oh, and that when they’ve stated that the bulk of domestic and European models have been statistically unreliable and/or objectively poorly-performing the past decade vis a vis the Asian competition that they were more or less true, and that it’s funny to watch people whose favourites were slagged trying to rationalize it away.
     
    They’ve done some interesting reporting on this issue and followed up with actual testsThis is more than the armchair engineers who haven’t actually tried to duplicate claims about whether or not you can use the brakes to stop a car stuck at WOT, much less dig into the actual numbers.

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    Lies, lies, and statistics!  Sorry, but I don’t buy the claim that the Toyotas are more likely than other cars to “unexpectedly accelerate”.  First of all, the CR study only looks at 2008 MY cars.  Why?  Did that particular sample space just happen to lead to the conclusion CR perhaps wanted?  If you want accurate statistical inferences, you need to look at the biggest most random sample space possible.  Also, it it possible that a lot of “me too” complaints were logged after the big news story about the tragic CA ES350 crash.  It’d ‘be interesting to see the dates the complaints were logged.  And, if they’re going by NHTSA website safety complaints – there are many many duplicate entries on there by idiots who treat the website like a customer service portal and repeatedly log the same complaint over and over.  It would be far more accurate to base the statistics on the number of complaints reported to dealers and garages by car owners.  After all, if you truly think your car is accelerating on its own, you’re probably going to take it in for a repair.

    The famous ES350 that tragically crashed in CA had an *incorrect* floormat laying in the footwell which jammed the pedal – this was confirmed when someone who had the same loaner car earlier and had experienced an unintended acceleration spoke to the press recently.  The high-profile ES accelerations are not the fault of the car’s design, the OEM floormat’s design, or the mfgr; they are the fault of of the dealer lot jockeys and their managers.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      And that is your opinion.  Toyota could have designed a pedal with a higher clearance, problem never happens.  Their name probably never gets brought up.  I am not saying that the dealer and the OEM are without fault, but Toyota does get its fair share.
       

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    I had an “unexpected acceleration” event yesterday afternoon on my way home. I drove downhill in too tall a gear. I let the car make the choice for me too. Should I report it?

  • avatar
    dagmeister

    I think you guys are missing the point. It is possible for a fly by wire throttle to pick up the wrong position, or misplace the actual throttle. Heck I have changed a few TPS modules myself, and one electronic pedal module.
    And I would be upset too if the throttle got caught under the OE floor matts..
    jeez, I hope none of those 166 were killed, unlikely considering they wouldn’t be able to report it.
     

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

     
    In Toyota’s case the cause is clearly poor design/engineering, not stupid drivers.   Drivers -reasonably-  assume their factory floormats will fit under the accelerator pedal.
    Drivers still should be able to shift into neutral.

    • 0 avatar
      Angainor

      If you would actually bother to read any of the stories about the floor mat/accelerator pedal issue, you would have known that the issue is not with Toyota floor mats getting caught under the pedal but after market floor mats.  The case in California is one where the dealer didn’t want to get the factory carpet mats dirty so they put in a weather mat on top of the factory mat. 

  • avatar
    william442

    It was not a factory floormat. My statistic studies were long ago, but the numbers are meaningless. Experienced pilots still forget carb. heat and end up in trees.
     
     
     
     
     
     
    heat

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Well, if this is the only thing that the media can find to pick on Toyota, then I say congrats to Toyota!

    To Toyota drivers – if you can see the floormat starting to push forward and squeeze under the gas pedal, pull it out.  How hard is that? 

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I owned Audi during and after the UA 60 Minutes slander.  It almost destroyed the brand in the US.  Glad to see they’ve overcome it all.  RE: Toyota–how hard can floor mat snaps be?

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Toyotas HAVE floor mat retainer hooks built into the floor on the driver’s side.  Both our 1999 Camry and 2005 Tundra have them.  Again, the problem with the ES350 crash was an aftermarket mat placed by the dealer on top of the factory mat.  How could the engineers forseen this? Anyway, Toyota is shortening the gas pedal on the recalled models to prevent this from happening again. What more are they expected to do?

  • avatar
    hitman1970

    It is only significant to you if you are one of the lucky winners. That said my brother bought a RAV4 last week. I asked him to make sure he and his wife know how to put the damn thing in N and cut off power in an emergency.  Oh what a feeling!

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Corky Boyd…. Could you please explain,how exatly the UAW is to blame for the percieved quality issues that the domestics have.

     Oh yeah then you can enlighten us all with your evidence,on CR, the poster boy for unbias reporting,now being a mouth piece for the Obama admin.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Hey, everybody has problems. I’ve been trying to bring a 1926 car back to life, and I can’t get any intended acceleration from it.

  • avatar
    NickR

    166 in total huh?  Wow that must be about what, 0.1% of the people who trip and fall every year.  This is newsworthy?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “Only our analysis says that unintended acceleration is caused by stupid drivers, a problem that no number of gizmos will ever fix.”
    And what investigative work is that analysis based on? Ah, nothing, just a “gut feel” I presume. Surely it is impossible for an electronic throttle by wire system to ever have a glitch which causes unexpected results, right? After all, computers are foolproof. Even the ones which do simple things like enabling the editing of user comments never have anything go wrong. We can also count on the corporations of the world to always have the best interests of their customers at heart and to never cover up problems.
     

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    John Horner is correct, in a fly-by-wire environment, one could come up with failures that do allow HAL to try to kill you. In which case, it probably would be prudent to have a big, red, disconnect somewhere handy.

    But, the last 20 years of ‘UI’ have been nothing but human error.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    And what investigative work is that analysis based on? Ah, nothing, just a “gut feel” I presume. Surely it is impossible for an electronic throttle by wire system to ever have a glitch which causes unexpected results, right? After all, computers are foolproof. Even the ones which do simple things like enabling the editing of user comments never have anything go wrong. We can also count on the corporations of the world to always have the best interests of their customers at heart and to never cover up problems.
     
    There’s a hell of a lot of difference between a system for reading and writing data from a database to web browser by way of a mess of PHP and JavaScript and a system designed to accept multiple redundant sensor inputs from a piece of hardware and hard-fault if they disagree in any way.
     
    For one, the latter is much simpler than the former.  The latter is also much safer than a mechanical linkage that has no easy way to trigger a fault condition.  Finally, there’s negligible liability dollars at stake if I can’t remove typos from a web post.
     
    I know it’s fashionable to harp on computers, but I think people have forgotten what, ahem, fun it was to deal with carburetors, chokes, throttle cables and having to make sure your engine was in-tune every month because it might kill itself when the fuel mixture went wrong.  Remember when we had to give a damn about ping/knock?

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      My point is simply that technology is rarely perfect. Old carb. equipped throttles often would fail WOT when the return spring broke. Some vehicles used a dual return spring (one small one inside a larger one) to reduce that risk. Of course users are not perfect either. I think that many enthusiasts leap to the “dumb drivers” explanation because it provides a handy mental way of saying “not me”. As long as we enthusiasts believe ourselves to be smarter, better drivers than “regular people” are, we convince ourselves that the bad stuff isn’t likely to happen to us. The first place most minds go when bad stuff happens to other people is an instinctive reaction of whether or not that could have been me.
       

  • avatar
    wsn

    I don’t understand that much hate towards CR. Did you all own a VW?
     
    52 for one model year is significant. If Toyota cars are good for operation for 15 years, that would be about 780 cases in total.
     
    It may not be statistically significant. But sure it is significant amount of money at stake in a court.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      But that is 52 reports, not 52 lawsuits. When you get such a report from less than 0.0025% of the car owners, it may still mean that the design is defective. But it is more likely to be just an aberration.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      How many of the people who have an issue with a vehicle actually bother to report it to the NHTSA?

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      That’s a good question. And one I don’t know the answer to.

      But the problem of people focusing on issues like this based on little data and scary scenarios plagues risk management. As we saw with things like the Y2K scare, swine flu, and the like. They are problems, and they should be dealt with, but the risks tend to too easily take on exaggerated proportions.

      We humans are like that. We make mountains out of molehills. We need to realize that, and tone down our responses. Not play on that tendency, as I think Consumer Reports has done. To their discredit.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      @Daanii2
      And sometimes people do just the opposite.  The dealer was given a report for this exact problem on this exact car, yet it was still in the car.  There have been many reports of this problem before the crash.  It took 4 people dying in a crash, the driver being a police officer for the NHTSA to really look into the matter and for Toyota to issue the recall.  Maybe too much is being made of it now, but to little was being made of it before those people died.  TTAC is terribly wrong when it things through its “analysis”, or lack there of, that this is a user problem.  It clearly isn’t.  It is a bad design and needs to be fixed.

  • avatar
    mjz

    Finally! Something Chrysler “accels” in.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    There’s a hell of a lot of difference between a system for reading and writing data from a database to web browser by way of a mess of PHP and JavaScript and a system designed to accept multiple redundant sensor inputs from a piece of hardware and hard-fault if they disagree in any way.

    True, true. If we’re talking about LH/Motronic something primitive like that, no argument.
    But, when we’re looking at distributed computing (which seems to be expanding rapidly) we’re not talking about a single Moto chip holking 16K that somebody with a decent C-compiler can turn into EFI. 
    OrwellStar can not only listen to conversations in your vehicle without your knowledge, it can turn your vehicle off remotely.  I know there’s an enterprising 12 year old with too much time on his hands figuring out the hack to drive a      YuSuburbaHo into a wall. Or turn it off crossing train tracks.  
    I’m with you that in the mechanical world, the only failures are human. Almost always mistaking the ‘go’ pedal for the ‘stop’.  But, as cars become more computerized, there is the distinct likelyhood that HAL will try to kill you.  

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Angainor
    If you would actually bother to read any of the stories about the floor mat/accelerator pedal issue, you would have known that the issue is not with Toyota floor mats getting caught under the pedal but after market floor mats.  The case in California is one where the dealer didn’t want to get the factory carpet mats dirty so they put in a weather mat on top of the factory mat.
    Actually, I have bothered, and the problem is not unique to cases where aftermarket floor mats were piled on top of OEM floor mats.   That was the case with the Lexus/CHP officer crash, but there have been many other incidents that did not involve multiple floor mats.
    Since 2002, there have been about 1000 reports of Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) on Toyota vehicles.    It’s not likely that all 1000 incidents have been cases where there were multiple floor mats.
    As EN points out in this article, Toyota has more cases than any other manufacturer.  It seems unlikely that Toyota/Lexus customers pile aftermarket floor mats on top of OEM floor mats in greater proportion than owners of other makes.    If this were really the problem, we should see it fairly evenly distributed among makes of cars.
    Toyota is asking customers to remove all floor mats, including the OEM mats.
    Toyota is also modifying the gas pedals.  If you prefer not to say that the mats are too thick, but rather the gas pedals are too long, well, ok.
    Some owners have reported SUA problems after mats have been removed.  I suspect that the drive by wire system is the real problem in many cases.
     
    http://www.safetyresearch.net/2009/11/25/toyota-announces-a-fix-for-sudden-acceleration-focus-on-stuck-mats/
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-toyota-throttle29-2009nov29,0,5254584.story
    Owners can’t be blamed for SUA.   They can be blamed for not being able to get out of the predicament safely -Though if a CHP officer can’t do it, what chance does the average driver have?      But SUA is not just a floor mat on top of floor mat problem.
    Either the mats are too thick, the gas pedal is too long, or the drive by wire system is faulty.

  • avatar
    Otto Krump

    As to drive by wire gas pedals, what the hell was wrong with a cable? Too cheap to fix?
    This is why I can’t even contemplate buying a new car.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    For a site that calls itself the truth about cars and desires journalist integrity, why assume that Toyota is not at fault here?  Why post a story about how another driver of the same vehicle was able to deal with it in the title instead of dealer warned about this issue on the car that killed people?  Why not give Toyota some scrutiny on this issue?  I can only imagine the stories had it been a GM vehicle with this problem.

  • avatar
    cleek

    Most auto safety features are there to address the failings of drivers. Offering “smart throttle”, etc. is just plain sensible.  It is certainly a more useful investment than the legalese that gets printed warning folks off of the obvious.
     


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