By on February 4, 2010

Complaints about allegedly faulty Prius brakes are growing by the minute. This morning’s Nikkei reports that in addition to the 14 complaints received by  Japan’s Transport Ministry, dealers in Japan are handling 77. Today, Toyota conceded that the brakes can get confused on icy roads.

As reported yesterday, the NHTSA had received numerous complaints about the brakes of the new Prius hybrid. According a New York Times tally, the NHTS had logged “at least 136 complaints about the brakes on the 2010 Prius. Many are from drivers who say the vehicle surged forward or temporarily lost braking after driving over a pothole or other uneven surface, and many say it is a recurring problem.”

Toyota Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki assured Transport Minister Seiji Maehara that a remedy for the brake problem has already been devised. At the same time, Sasaki insisted that Toyota will investigate each complaint.

This Tokyo afternoon, Toyota gave a press conference. Bad news: Toyota is investigating whether any of its hybrids besides the Prius have brake problems. The Sai, which was released in December, and the Lexus HS hybrid use the same electronic braking system as the Prius.

After having received increased complaint in December, Toyota changed the software in January. Also in January, Toyota retooled the braking systems for cars made that month. However, they did not disclose the move. “We were investigating the cause of the problem,” said Hiroyuki Yokoyama, general manager of the Customer Quality Engineering Division, “We did not intend to cover up the issue.”

According to Toyota, the logic of the regen brakes can get confused: “When driving on an icy road, the shift from the electronic brake to the hydraulic brake sometimes takes longer than usual,” Yokoyama conceded.

“At first, we thought the complaints were due to users’ unfamiliarity with the hybrid’s brakes,” Yokoyama explained. “But as it got colder in December, the number of complaints increased. This was when we began to consider a remedy, which we carried out in January.”

But they did not tell previous owners. Braking on icy roads is dicey as it is. You can’t have brakes that haven’t made up their mind whether to brake the old way or the new way.

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37 Comments on “Toyota Admits: Prius Brakes Can Get Confused On Icy Roads...”


  • avatar
    don1967

    Of course a car designed for global warming would get confused on ice. This is why you never see Al Gore wandering around in Canada.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    “Our Cosumters are Stupid.” We Toyota are so perfect that we could never be wrong.

    - that seems to be the current mode that Toyota is operating under these days. How in the world did they not test brakes in cold weather? WTF are they testing for?

  • avatar
    mikey

    I can’t believe I’m defending Toyota here. I’ve been driving on icy ,slushy, snow covered roads for forty winters. I have never been comfortble allowing technogy to make my driving decisions. As high tech as the Prius is,nothing,IMHO will replace driver input. Hell I wish I could override ABS. TC is ok but you don’t really need it on a FWD.

    The Prius is the leader in Hybrid technolgy and sales.But it can’t be everything to everybody.

    • 0 avatar
      michal1980

      Asking for it to break on ice is now equal to it being everything to everybody?

      Maybe they should put another sticker on it, Warning dont use in icy weather

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      But the Prius doesn’t break on ice very often; it’s been very reliable and rarely breaks at all (sorry, couldn’t resist).

      Mikey, I agree with you to a point. Unfortunately there are areas of the U.S. where ice and snow happen only occasionally, and people can’t seem to get the hang of driving in it. To which I propose the ultimate safety system: STAY HOME.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Mikey: I get what you’re trying to say: all that new tech doesn’t idiot proof a vehicle.

      And the Prius, though many think is the 2nd coming of the automobile is simply that: an automobile. And ice is ice no matter what you’re driving. Even a Prius can’t change that.

      BTW: all the tech in the world doesn’t stop CA drivers from gettin’ stupid [er] when it rains [much less freezes] and having accidents. Even the mighty Prius is no antidote for textin, talkin, and speedin when there’s precipitatin goin on.

      Hell we don’t even have to prove ability for parallel parking and entering a freeway to get a license here.

    • 0 avatar
      WildBill

      Have to defend ABS in general, it saved my wretched life (and others) on more than one occasion when I was working on a honey wagon (that’s sh** pumper truck to the uninitiated). One time I was coming down a steep hill slowly, truck was loaded with waste (mostly water),road icy, intersection at the bottom. Light turns red for my direction, I hit the (air) brakes and it starts pulsing wildly… but I stop straight and don’t run through the intersection. In my view there is nothing better for ice and snow covered roads than ABS.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I’m with you WildBill.
      Nothing beats knowing that you can mash the brakes and have each wheel independently scramble for what traction exists. No amount of brake pumping or foot sensitivity can do what the ABS in my car does.
      If I ever were to run into something with the ABS engaged(after all, it’s not magical and can’t make traction out of nothing), I’d know that I would have run into it harder without ABS. And I’d probably be sideways too, like the guy who rear-ended me 2 winters ago.
      Now if I didn’t trust my ABS to do the job right, I would have a different opinion about electronic intervention.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    And more defects will arise. Or better said, surface. I think we are seeing just the beginning.

    The whole SUA opened the eyes. People will start assuming that previous “Holy Toyota” is just another car manufacturer.

    Which is very healthy. For us customers, at least.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      Something I’ve noticed on the non-car related sites like BW and Forbes, in the past when there was a negative article about toyota (like when the pedal/mate-gate first started) there would be one negative comment and all the rest would be people rushing to defend them. Now it’s negative comment after negative comment, mostly people comparing thier 90′s toyota and how great it was to thier current and how much the quality has dropped and the problems they are having and how they don’t plan on buying another.

    • 0 avatar
      Roxer

      Healthy for me as well. I work at a toyota service department and see the worst side of Toyota. And let me tell you – I have seen the worst side of Honda, VW, and Ford – Toyota has a long way to fall before being compared to them.

    • 0 avatar

      @rnc: Go read the comments on the Toyota stories at CNBC. There are lots of choice quotes:

      “I am very please. Look at Cosumer Reports 284000 OWNERS surveied always put the Japanese cars at the very top as the best. I hope I never have to buy another union-obama American made car.”

      “Give them a break…the supplier in question was an AMERICAN supplier. they need to purge their problems and get on with business.”

      “the worst toyota is better then whatever the waste of money bailouts companies could produce.”

      …and so on. I wish I could locate some of the other comments that were particularly egregious but they seem to have been deleted. At any rate, it just proves that the “non-enthusiasts” feel differently about cars and Toyota than we do. I have no ill will towards the company, but I also have to desire to own any of their products, save the FJ Cruiser and IS 250 with a stick, everything else is just too bland.

  • avatar
    TomH

    Meh, until LaHood tells me I can’t drive my Prius, it’s no big deal.

    • 0 avatar
      WildBill

      Tom, if you let some Beltway bureaucratic tell you what you are going to drive and not drive, then there is less hope for humanity than I thought. If it still works for you keep going, if it doesn’t get it fixed. LaHood be damned.

  • avatar
    tced2

    It sounds like the computer program “temporarily” quits servicing the braking functions (and is hung up somewhere else?). I hesitate to question or “back-seat” engineer some other’s work – but here it goes.
    This is the kind of problem that should be caught with proper testing. I spent a number of years developing, system-integrating, and testing consumer devices. Testing, testing, testing. This scenario should have been part of any reasonable testing suite. It’s not an unusual situation, braking on ice?
    (ABS is a good advance of auto technology. It can’t “create” friction to stop you more quickly but it can “manage” friction to help you retain steering control)

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Interesting how far will this Toyota beating go. Will it eventually kill the company? It’s a good time to start Toyota Death Watch series :)

    We live in a age where people will not take any responsibily whatsoever, and will blame anything/anyone for their own inabilities. The man in the mirror is a last person to look at. Common sense and good will are missing from our vocabularies.

    I’m not saying Toyota is not to blame, but it is frightening to look at this escalating process where one manufacturer is so scared of the public opinion that they are bowing down and accepting anything that is thrown at them.

  • avatar
    segfault

    I thought there were complaints of similar brake problems on 2004-2009 Prius models as well.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      There are complaints about this for every make and model. Sudden acceleration and sudden loss of control or brakeforce are up there with poor fuel economy in the NHTSA’s database of complaints. Many complaints end up being bogus, by the way.

      The thing this, and this is important, there’s a distinction between making a complaint and there actually being a problem. When ABS became very common, there were rashes of complaints about the pinging pedal.

      What I think we will see out of this is at worst, a lot of government and media showboating and at best, blackboxes in cars to better determine the cause and fault of an accident.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      psarhjinian
      They took the same approach with UA and you see where that has led. When you ignore the problems, they will come to bite you.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      They took the same approach with UA and you see where that has led. When you ignore the problems, they will come to bite you.

      So what do you want them to do? Do a recall when they genuinely aren’t sure of the cause of the problem? Shotgun-troubleshoot? Stir everyone up into a state of hysteria?

      The way this is being handled would hopefully encourage other marques to be open, but something tells me it could just as easily result in a circling of the wagons on these types of issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      psarhjinian,
      It would be best for Toyota to notify current owners when they have a fix for the issue. Which Toyota didn’t do. Toyota didn’t tell owners of back in 2007 when it redesigned the pedals, which they didn’t fix then, to let them know there is an issue. It was seen as too minor.

      I am not saying let everyone know every problem you have before you know what the problem is. I am saying they didn’t try to understand it until the media got a hold of the story. Before them, Toyota denied the problem, blamed it on customers, blamed it on floor mats, and now blames it on pedals.

      I said don’t ignore the problems. When someone reports an issue, look into it, try to find out what the problem is. Don’t dismiss the issue as “bogus.” Making a strawman argument about bad ideas that a manufacture could do makes no sense. I am not saying rush to recall when you don’t understand the problem. I am not say try shotgun troubleshooting. I am saying don’t ignore 2000 complaints over ten years that were filed with the NHTSA and untold numbers more that happened with dealers. It seems pretty obvious that something was broken there either in the reporting of the problems or the investigation of the reports.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I actually have some sympathy for Toyota in this. I’ll explain why:

    Two years ago I was responsible for a large corporate network at an IT consultancy firm and we’d just gotten through a replacement of older router gear with new, security-aware appliances. One big reason for this was to mark and address security problems on the network; we had a lot of counsultants who come back with all sorts of malware on the laptops and it was a constant battle to

    One side-effect of the new units is that they would kill certain types of network traffic, specifically our core financial package. It wasn’t something that showed up in testing because you’d have to walk away for a half-hour and then come back and try to perform an operation. Bam! The app would die.

    So this was a huge issue that didn’t rear it’s head until we rolled out the new firewalls to our smaller, less busy offices, and we had a lot of trouble tracking it down. We did, eventually, but by that time we’d poisoned the well, and it became a never-ending series of “Since you upgraded the firewalls my Outlook hangs/Word won’t print/Kitten screensaver crashes/Toaster burns my toast/Stockings get runs”. It didn’t matter that we fixed the problem, the blood was in the water and problems that were two or three months older than the firewall issue, or not connected to the firewall, were now being blamed on the firewall.

    Toyota is in a similar situation, and every complaint in the NHTSA database (and I encourage you read the DB, because a huge volume of the complaints are really very stupid) against them is going to get automatic credence, mostly because every journalist looking for a byline is going to be combing for trends, and Toyota is more or less forced to disclose everything.

    I didn’t think this was a smart thing to do when it was being done to Audi or the domestics, and it’s not a smart thing to do now.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      When it comes to safety items, Toyota should be disclosing everything. Did your read in this article where Toyota didn’t tell previous owners about the problem?

      I understand your analogy about A not being related to B, and you are 100% correct. This problem doesn’t have anything to do with the UA problem, unless you get both of them at the same time. But, what this does show is that Toyota isn’t being proactive on safety and issuing the recall for the braking problem. That is what Toyota should have done, and I have no sympathy for that.

    • 0 avatar
      Geotpf

      Yeah, every little problem that Toyota will have for the next year or so will be big news, while the same sized problem that GM or Ford or VW or Honda or Hyundai has won’t be. They are in deep shit for the short to medium term. No need to start a Toyota Death Watch, though-they will survive and, eventually, prosper again.

  • avatar
    late_apex

    psarhjinian +1

    I can identify with the scenario you described! People do tend to believe that issues X,Y, and Z are related to known issue A or B even when there is connection between the issues.

    Is it the nature of people to look for an outside source to blame for their issues or is it people truly believing in a relation of issues because they can’t understand the specifics of a given situation?

    Like it or love it, people will think what they want to think and use whatever evidence they deem relevant to prove their point or rely upon no evidence at all.

    I’d like to think in cases where you have mass hysteria often times its about perception when it should be about facts. I remember Audi to be un-reliable, but can’t actually recall what the specific issue was. I believed that GM and CryCo shouldn’t have taken the bailout because they weren’t viable businesses. I believed they were un-reliable based on Consumer Reports and knowing people who drove them. In Toyota’s case I believe they have some defects that impact a statistically small number of vehicles. I don’t know anyone who’s had or even heard of the un-intended acceleration issues. I also don’t consider this to be an issue that will change my perception of Toyota.

    My beliefs are partially based on fact and partially based on opinion, just like everybody else. Hats off to TTAC for covering the truth about cars (from all vendors) and letting us make our own decisions-

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Is it the nature of people to look for an outside source to blame for their issues or is it people truly believing in a relation of issues because they can’t understand the specifics of a given situation?

      Judging by the number of armchair engineers who want to go back to the good old days of carbs and cables, I’d say the latter.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    psar +100

    “Correlation does not imply causation”….

    I’m no Toyota fan, but this has gone over the top. Guess what’s not getting discussed in the MMM – Cobalt steering racks. I’m sure it’s not a safety issue if some 16 year old girl driving her new Cobalt suddenly loses power steering, panics and crashes.

    Nah.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    This reminds me of the story a friend who worked for Nissan told me about JD Power surveys. Apparently ANY complaint a new car buyer has registers as a ding against the mfg…. up to and including the dashboard having water spot. Certainly puts these quality awards into question when ticky tack complaints register the same way a failed transmission does.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s not quite that simple and it does depend on which source you use. JDP is a little less granular than Consumer Reports, which breaks down problems by subsystem.

      One point though, is that in many of these studies Toyota is still at or near the top of the list and that the problem count has been dropping steadily for years. This kind of shoots a hole in “Toyota’s failing quality” from an objective, holistic point of view.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    So, why didn’t Toyota release this earlier and issue a recall so that current owners could get the fix? I think we are seeing a lot of that from Toyota these days, waiting to see how big the problem really is before issuing a recall.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      So they’re supposed to issue a recall before they know what the problem and its attendant solution are?

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      And properly TEST the solution. Thorough and competent testing takes time.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Guys, I am not sure you read what I read.

      “After having received increased complaint in December, Toyota changed the software in January. Also in January, Toyota retooled the braking systems for cars made that month. However, they did not disclose the move. “We were investigating the cause of the problem,” said Hiroyuki Yokoyama, general manager of the Customer Quality Engineering Division, “We did not intend to cover up the issue.”

      Toyota made the change in January. The NHTSA announces they are going to look into Prius brakes. The VERY NEXT DAY Toyota announces that they know about the problem and have made changes for newer cars to address this issue. Sounds like they have already done the testing and know what the problem is from their own announcement.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    That has to be the epitome of faux-PC doublespeak; instead of a brake failure the brakes were ‘confused.’

    Kinda makes you feel sorry for the poor little Prius, it’s a victim too.

  • avatar
    Sul

    I’ve been driving ABS-equipped cars since the early 90′s, and I’ve noticed that the brakes on several of my cars have been easily confused by potholes, washboard surfaces, and ice.

    ABS on ice almost never works. (I live in New Hampshire.) And potholes and washboard surfaces can cause ABS to activate when you don’t need it. I remember standing on the brakes of my ’06 Altima while deccelerating downhill off a highway, over a washboard surface, headed toward a traffic light in a busy residential neighborhood, with my heart pounding in terror, as the ABS pumped away and reduced my braking ability…it was like these nightmares that I have where the controls of a car stop responding to me. I ended up coming to a stop right on the stop line, my leg cramped with the effort of what should have been a simple stop.

    My point is, it’s not just Toyota’s ABS that can interfere with the driver’s control of a car. I’ve been wondering for days if Toyota isn’t taking it on the chin just because there are so many Toyotas on the road, and a few strange incidents are causing a widespread moral panic. This ABS thing reinforces that belief.

    Down with ABS!!! (Except maybe on trucks.) Let’s teach people some simple driving skills instead.

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      There’s always a possibilty of losing grip and losing control of any car whether you have ABS, FWD, AWD, or traction control. Depends on how hard you’re pushing. ABS is supposed to keep your wheels from locking up and losing grip, but if you’re going too fast in snow covered or icy conditions ABS will give you just enough grip to make you think you’ve got it under control a second longer than you should. You’re right, there’s no substitue for good driving skills and good judgment.

    • 0 avatar
      carsinamerica

      I live in Michigan. My ABS works quite well on ice. I hit the brakes, the car stops, and it doesn’t go sideways if I have to apply a steering input.


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