By on March 7, 2010

[Note: This piece first ran in May 2007. It seems particularly relevant again in light of the current Toyota unintended acceleration (UA) situation. But please note that the circumstance that caused the Audi UA may, or may not be very different, depending on the circumstances. In the early eighties, electronic gas pedals and complex engine controls and other interfaces such as with ABS/brakes were still on the horizon. Nevertheless, the rules of physics have not been repealed. And an unknown percentage of Toyota UA events undoubtedly are the result of pedal misapplication. Audi's near collapse in the American market after this incident remains a painful lesson in the power of the media, the slowness of the NHTSA, and the critical PR choices manufacturers make in the wake of a crisis like this. PN]

When I first heard about the Audi “sudden unintended acceleration” segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1986, I knew instantly that they were blowing smoke. Literally.

Some years earlier, I was part of a TV crew shooting an educational program. Legendary race-car driver Parnelli Jones was the guest celebrity one day. The producer offered to take us to lunch in his 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Three or four of us hopped into the giant back seat. Parnelli took the wheel, and the Caddy owner/producer rode shotgun.

Parnelli fired up the Caddy’s giant V8, dropped it in gear and floored it – with his left foot on the brake. One of the rear wheels lit up in a screeching howl, and the car was soon engulfed in a cloud of acrid smoke. The Caddy didn’t move an inch; obviously. And neither did Parnelli, glancing at the wincing producer with his wicked grin. he probably burned off half the rubber of that tortured tire before he stopped grinning and gunning. I had assumed (wrongly) that race-car drivers grew up eventually.

The experience seared in a lesson in basic automobile physics: brakes are always more powerful than engines, even when they have 500 cubic inches (8.2 liters). Too bad we didn’t have our cameras running; we could have made a graphic rebuttal to 60 Minutes’ fraudulent destruction of Audi.

Let’s set the scene: it’s 1984, and Audi sales had shot up 48 percent on the strength of their new aerodynamic 5000, the latest hot weapon in the perpetually-escalating suburban driveway status war. It was a stunning slick piece, and Audi was on a roll.

Suddenly, the war turned bloody. Moms in runaway Audi 5000′s were mowing down their little kids in the driveway and pinning granny against the far garage wall with the four-ringed front of the Audi.

This had never happened with the Olds Cutlass Supreme Brougham Coupe, the previous “hot” suburban car Mom traded in for her Audi. The German car certainly felt different. Unlike the Olds’ wide push-bar brake pedal – that some Americans still operated with their left feet – the Audi had that weird, small brake pedal, set kinda’ close to the gas pedal.

And these Audis had a mind of their own. No matter how hard Mom pushed on the brake pedal, the Audi kept on charging, right through the garage door with granny on the prow. This despite the fact that the little five-cylinder mill only cranked out 130 horsepower. And the top-notch four-wheel disc brake system probably could generate well over 600 equivalent horsepower.

Apparently, the brakes were failing at exactly the same moment that the gas pedal decided it had a mind of its own. Perfectly plausible, at least to the 60 Minutes crew, the Audi (non)drivers, and much of the media and public.

About as plausible as ignoring the police report of the most dramatic victim on the show, Kristi Bradosky, who ran over her six year old son. That report said “Bradosky’s foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the gas pedal accelerating the auto.” Denial isn’t just a river.

Ed Bradley’s 17 minute “investigative report” aired on November 23, 1986. Between interviews of the teary-eyed “victims” (drivers) of unintended acceleration swearing their feet were on the brake pedal, CBS showed a clip of a driverless Audi lurching forward on its own.

Viewers didn’t get to see the canister of compressed air on the passenger-side floor with a hose running to a hole drilled in the transmission. An “expert” had rigged the Rube Goldberg device to shift the big Audi into drive and, like any automatic-equipped car, move forward (unless the brakes are depressed).

The clip was blatantly deceptive AND totally irrelevant. Nobody claimed driverless Audis were taking off and killing kids and grannies. Mom was always at the wheel, pushing the 5000′s “brake” pedal with all her might.

In 1989, after three years of studying the blatantly obvious, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their report on Audi’s “sudden unintended acceleration problem.” NHTA’s findings fully exonerated Audi and some other implicated foreign makes”.

The report concluded that the Audi’s pedal placement was different enough from American cars’ normal set-up (closer to each other) to cause some drivers to mistakenly press the gas instead of the brake. 60 Minutes did not retract their piece; they called the NHTSA report “an opinion.”

(Update: Audi and many manufacturers quickly added an automatic transmission interlock, making it impossible to shift into drive or reverse without a foot on the (real) brake.)

A flood of lawsuits was already washing over Audi, not to mention a tsunami of bad publicity. Audi took a questionable stance: they didn’t blame the drivers for the problem, even after the NHTSA report came out. Hey, the customer’s always right, and we sure wouldn’t want to make our American customers look stupid. Anything but that.

So the German automaker took it on the chin. Audi sales collapsed, from 74k units in 1984 to 12k by 1991. The timing added insult to injury; sales fell exactly during the same years when Lexus arrived to battle for the hearts and wallets of America’s up-scale consumers. Lexus quickly became the latest suburban driveway prestige symbol.

As a final kick to the near-corpse, Audi’s suddenly wanna-be-Lexus drivers launched a class action suit charging lost resale value. No wonder the brand almost abandoned the U.S. in 1993. It’s a killer market.

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106 Comments on “The Best Of TTAC: The Audi 5000 Intended Unintended Acceleration Debacle...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m sure unintended acceleration did nothing good for Audi’s fortunes, but frankly, I don’t think that tells the story of why the brand failed so badly. My father owned an ’85 5000 wagon, and after one year in our driveway, I’d nominate it for the Most Overrated Car Ever award,

    After listening (stupidly) to all the praise being heaped on this car by the press, my dad chucked in his BMW 730i on the 5000. Sure, it was sensational-looking, but ANY acceleration – unintended or otherwise – would have been welcome. Runaway acceleration, my ass – this car couldn’t have out-accelerated a stiff breeze, much less its own brakes.

    How underpowered was the 5000? It was bad enough that you actually shut off the A/C to get acceleration on hills – in St. Louis, in July, in a supposed luxury “sports” sedan that would go for $50,000 or so in today’s bucks. This car was so slow that I drag-raced my brother with my ’85 Civic Si – and won. Folks, when your megabuck performance sedan gets creamed by econoboxes, things have gone sideways.

    This car was such a dog that my dad’s next car – an ’85 Mercedes 300 turbo-diesel – felt like a top-fuel dragster.

    But this doesn’t even begin to touch on the Audi’s myriad other faults, like the various mechanical and electrical failures, and the leather, which was so cheap that it the sides of the driver’s seat began to wear off after a few months. And don’t get me started on the dealership – I think junkies get better service at clinics dispensing free needles.

    The unintended acceleration stupidity probably drove off a lot of potential Audi buyers, but I’d bet that the ownership experience for the schmucks who bought them was the real killer.

    I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Audi’s fortunes only recovered in the late ’90s, with the introduction of the A6, which finally delivered on the style promise of the 5000 with performance (and reliability) to match.

    • 0 avatar
      kwahaus

      Having owned a number of Audis, you’re right. Although the 60 Minutes attack was a complete fabrication, in the end the product failed to deliver. Audis at that time excelled in design and packaging. But, boy were they slow. And reliability was all over the place. Some cars ran for many years/miles and never had a problem. Others were a nightmare from day one — a total crap shoot. And the dealers…ahh, the dealers…they were mostly arrogant a**h****. Today the products are way better but not sure all of the dealers have gotten the message. My last 3 Lexus haven’t been anywhere as fun as the current Audis, but the dealers treat me like they actually appreciate my business.

    • 0 avatar
      ERASER

      I owned a 1987 Audi 5000 Turbo and except for repairs due to a previous accident I had no problems with the car which was by far more advanced then anything the Americans produced at that point. I traded it for a 1991 Bmw 318 manual. Guess what.. when the temp was at -20 Celcius the throttle stuck open at 4000 rpm and you could not stop the car unless pressing the clutch and turning off the engine. A recall was made within a week of this happening and my complaining to the dealership..the throttle body aluminum froze in cold temperatures due to condensation build up on there all new 16valve four cylinder that was going into the next new model generation bmw 3 series. They replaced the throttle body assembly and asked my not to discuss this problem to the public. The problem was fixed after this incident. I wonder why people don’t hear about the real mechanical problems(like ford cruise control..bmw..etc), only the ones that are the result of driver error and a system to destroy democracy in North America….$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  • avatar
    Nutella

    I think the issue with the Audi was the tall gearing to match the aerodynamic shape. My dad’s Audi 100 had the 1.8L 90hp engine and its gas mileage was so good that some testers managed to drive one for about 900 miles – that is from Brussels to Rome.
    That car had fantastic high speed stability and because we had roll up windows, manual transmision, no AC and cloth seats, it was a very reliable .
    For comparison purposes, the gas mileage on the highway was 6.8L/100 km with a 90hp engine whereas a 2010 Toyota Yaris gets 6.5L/100 in the same conditions !!

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      Exactly. I was living in Germany at the time the Audi 100 (or 5000 as the North Americans knew it) came out – it was ALL about fuel economy. The light-weight construction, mini-spare tire, aerodynamic shape of a Cd 0.30, the flush windows, and so on.

      The car’s engine was meant to be fuel efficient. A point lost on American drivers used to cheap gas from the Third World.

      Quite frankly, you never hear about any issues or faults cars have except when driven by Americans. That’s because Americans do not respect the limitations and do not educate themselves how to operate a machine…. and maybe because they are preoccupied with cup-holders and using their cars as dining-rooms.

      I do not believe there is any problem with Toyotas UNTIL I hear of an incident that took place outside the U.S.of A.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      @mhadi: Quite frankly, you never hear about any issues or faults cars have except when driven by Americans. That’s because Americans do not respect the limitations and do not educate themselves how to operate a machine…. and maybe because they are preoccupied with cup-holders and using their cars as dining-rooms.

      You don’t honestly think you’re going to get away with that comment without a response?

      I’m somewhat familiar with both the North American and European continents, and you’re ignoring some very obvious differences between the two markets.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @mhadi: Quite frankly, you never hear about any issues or faults cars have except when driven by Americans.

      So you’ve never heard a non-American complain about a problem on a vehicle from Renault, Jaguar, Triumph, TVR, Maserati, or Alfa Romeo?

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Never understood “the differences between American and Europe” statement. I spent three years driving in Europe and I see nothing that says we NEED 300HP cars to cope with America’s geography or traffic style.

      We drove sub-100 HP over 100 mph regularly. We drove through the mountains and along the seashore. We drove in very heavy traffic and commuted at speeds over 80 mph on a regular basis. The only thing that I’d argue our “big American” vehicles do better is is tow things quickly. I still saw folks towing the same stuff over there that we tow here but that more people drove vehicles that more realistically matched their NEEDS rather than what they MIGHT do with their vehicles. See the $6+ gasoline.

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      @ajla: [quote]“So you’ve never heard a non-American complain about a problem on a vehicle from Renault, Jaguar, Triumph, TVR, Maserati, or Alfa Romeo?” [/quote]

      I don’t hear sensationalism, fabricated media stories, politicians carrying out a witch-hunt against a non-indigenous company such as Toyota.

      Only in America.

      I stand by what I say – Americans do not know how to operate a machine because they don’t bother to educate themselves. When things go wrong, they blame the machine. Europeans do not. That’s why these stories only happen in America.

      The whole jist of this story is that Americans – not Europeans- mistook the gas and break pedals. Meanwhile, Ford and Chrysler are promoting the Sync Entertainment Centre or the drink “ChillZone” in their new cars as a selling feature to grab the attention of Americans, rather than the mundane aspects of design and functional excellence such as the Audi 100 was.

  • avatar
    vento97

    Audi took a questionable stance: they didn’t blame the drivers for the problem, even after the NHTSA report came out. Hey, the customer’s always right, and we sure wouldn’t want to make our American customers look stupid. Anything but that.

    Audi forgot the rule – “Never underestimate a human’s potential for performing acts of gross stupidity”…. Especially nowadays…

    This was a classic case of the blind (60 Minutes) leading the easily led (John Q Public)…….

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      To say that 60 minutes was blind in this instance is a fallacy. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing…..old saying in Journalism, if it BLEEDS it LEADS….and when a child dies in America, where that is NEVER supposed to happen….then someone has to take the fall. CBS playedd judge, jury and hangman for Audi….only part about which they were blind was the FACTS…..those Libs never let the facts stand in the way of sticking it to a for-profit business….

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Ever since the Audi 5000 problems, pistionheads have had a knee jerk reaction to UA problems – It’s driver error! This was the song enthusiasts were singing at the begining of Toyota’s current mess too. Appliance drivers don’t care enough about cars to be able to distinguish the gas from the brake was the refrain.

    Though the NHTSA “cleared” Audi, as far as pistonheads are concerned, they never really did find the problem.

    There were 1500 UA reports, 400 injuries, and 7 deaths.

    The typical scenario was the car ran away just after being shifted from P to D (or P to R).

    Audi recalled the cars at least 4 times. Their first idea was that floormats were getting stuck under the accelerator.

    Recall 2 was to install a plate which elevated the brake pedal so that it did not lay in the same plain as the gas pedal.

    Had the problem actually been mats or clumsy drivers who couldn’t feel the correct pedal, the UA reports would have ended there. But they didn’t, so Audi recalled the cars a 3rd time to adjust the space between the gas and brake.

    The automatic shift lock was the 4th recall.

    Accidents continued.

    I’m not sure whether the cruise controls were ever investigated.

    Audi dropped the 5000 nameplate.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Reading up on this just now, I find that recall #3 -to adjust the distance between the gas and brake pedals- may not have been implimented. Seems it was an intended fix, but the company went straight to the interlock instead.

    • 0 avatar
      p00ch

      One theory is grime on the throttle linkage. I had an ’88 similar to the picture above with the 2.3 and auto. Throttle got stuck at near WOT (that was the only way to get those cars to mov
      e). I was easily able to override the throttle with the brakes and drive home. There was never even any need to pop it into neutral. At home, I sprayed the throttle links with WD-40 and the problem never reappeared.

      I suppose this was largely due to the car’s age (12 years at that point) but depending on the area and driving style, it could potentially have happened to newer cars as well.

    • 0 avatar
      kwahaus

      Another interesting thing about those Audis (compared to other cars) was the way they designed the gas pedal travel (again, probably to promote good mileage). As I recall, it was almost the reverse linear result compared to American cars. My crude explanation is that the first 50% of pedal travel summoned only 30% of power, whereas on my Chevy, the first 50% of travel summoned 75% of the available power. Obviously my numbers are not exact, but the point is, you really had to push the pedal to get the thing to go — more so than in other cars.

  • avatar
    chitbox dodge

    I have to agree with Freedmike. The 1985 Audi 5000S I had was indeed a turd. I bought it from my grandfather and I thought it was going to be the last car I would have to buy for at least 10 years especially given how much it cost me. It was a little slow I thought, but it will be dependable, always was for my grandpa anyways.
    Once you got past the excellent brakes, there really wasn’t much left. All four door handles broke off in my hands in just two days of cold weather. The sunroof would constantly stick open. The headliner was falling. The electronic a/c never worked right about a month after I bought it, the cost to fix it was more than insane in even today’s dollars, about $1000 for parts alone!
    People used to tease me about how the busted power antannae looked like an in-flight refueling hitch. All four of the power windows went out, making a set of pliers necessary equipment in the summer, again too costly to fix.
    The maintenance free hubs lost all their grease and you couldn’t keep a set of tires on the car. The catalytic converter clogged the first muffler after it lost all of its ceramic, nearly blowing a head gasket. I hit a set off railroad tracks once on the way to work and the a/c compressor fell off. The thing also had a wicked power steering fluid leak which was always fun because it required special fluid to re-fill which almost no one had available.I could really go on and on.
    This was not the car for someone struggling to go to college during the day and working at night.
    I could understand these problems in a twenty year old GM from the eighties, but not in a six year old car (91-92) from an esteemed German company. In the end I hated the car so much I traded it for an intake manifold for my incredibly good-to-me ’67 Plymouth Belvedere.

    • 0 avatar
      starbird80

      As the one-time owner of an ’86 5000 CS quattro, I can sympathize with some of the above. Having the turbo engine (introduced in the US for ’86) did wonders for the performance. But having a then-15-year-old example, it did tend to break in expensive ways. Still wish I’d held out for a wagon vs. the sedan.

      I spent a good deal of time on the quattro mailing list back in the day, which helped – sources for parts, fix-it-yourself tips, etc. Not to mention the various discussions about “Team Doorhandle.” I shudder to think of how I’d have had to cope with some of the problems in the pre-Internet era.

      An aside: there were a few businesses specializing in tuning this era of Audis. One was known as – wait for it – Intended Acceleration.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Folks, when your megabuck performance sedan gets creamed by econoboxes, things have gone sideways.

    Not sure about the 5000, however the 100 was not a intended as a performance sedan, but a more fuel efficient, stylish and better handling family hauler. As I recall, the 200 was turbocharged with more acceleration. The V8 was tops in the horsepower department, but by then UA was a deal killer. The selling point for these cars was Quattro, more or less. The 5 cylinder engine was quite agricultural. I had an ’89 90. Very nice (but underpowered) car. But, then again, back in the day, most small cars and family sedans were the same. As far as the AC goes, turning this off was probably not a bad idea if rapid acceleration was necessary.

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      The 5000 was sold in the early 80′s as a stylish, high performance sedan. (In fairness, this was the era when anything under a ten second 0-60 was respectable. My ’83 RX7 did it in 9.7 according to the factory.)

      The 100 in the US came after the UA, and it reflected a much more modest attitude at Audi. The flush side glass was gone, the styling was more sedate, Quattro was pitched as a safety feature, and Audi was focusing everything on convincing consumers that they made safe, reliable cars that wouldn’t depreciate to nothing in the four or five years you owned it.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @Mpresley:

      “As far as the AC goes, turning this off was probably not a bad idea if rapid acceleration was necessary.”

      OK, back in the 5000′s day, I could accept this in an econobox. But in a sports sedan that would cost 50 large in today’s money?

  • avatar
    don1967

    I think we can all agree on two things:

    1) That Audi’s fortunes slipped for good reason, not just because of the 60 Minutes story,

    and

    2) that the 60 Minutes crew should have stood in front of its own rigged Audi.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I seem to recall that in addition to the size of the pedals, the placement of the pedals was further to the left than a number of cars. One of the car magazines (Car and Driver?) measured the sizes and placement of a number of cars and found the Audi had pedals further to the left. This placement favored the driver pressing the accelerator (by mistake).

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      I also remember this article in one of the auto magazines.

      Okay, the rest of this is from memories of something I read 20+ years ago that I can’t verify right now, so please don’t take it as gospel (and forgive my “weasel wording”): I also recall from the article that another car’s pedals were also offset to the left more than the norm. For some reason I want to say that the car was the Toyota Cressida, but it didn’t have the same magnitude of sudden unintended acceleration claims as the 5000 (almost all cars have at least a small number of such claims). One reason I think my memory is correct is because I’m pretty sure the Cressida was among the first cars to have an automatic transmission selector interlock, which required the driver to apply the brake before shifting out of “park.”

    • 0 avatar
      kwahaus

      I think I remember the same article. I believe one of the other vehicles was the Jeep Grand Cherokee. This makes sense. Both makes were selling AWD and 4WD vehicles and targeting the upwardly mobile, not just the off-road crowd. The necessity for a center deferential made the transmission hub wider and required the minor pedal adjustments. I think we’re talking a tenth of an inch or so. Check and I think you’ll see a number of UA cases for Jeeps of that era as well.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The A6 2.8 was still pretty much a slug, and the A4 1.8T and 2.8T would be thrashed by the equivalent 3 series. Audi had much faster cars in Europe, but they really didn’t become a performance brand in the US until the 2.7 twin turbo V6 arrived in the S4 and the A6 2.7T. That wiped the smile off the faces of the E320 and 528i.

    Amazing that in less than 10 years they went from the 200hp A6 slug to the R8. The rest of the industry should be wary of this company.

    • 0 avatar
      criminalenterprise

      The entire VW universe is wild. They (maybe only because of Piëch) seem to fear caution more than failure.

      The W8, Phaeton, V10 TDI Touareg, Veyron, R10/R15… I could go on, but they throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Audi’s woes were probably not helped when – in the year prior to the 60 Minutes exposé – Ford introduced the original Taurus, which bore a strong resemblance to the 5000.

    I’m not suggesting that potential Audi buyers instead bought a Taurus, but rather, potential buyers didn’t see themselves paying over $20,000 for a car that closely resembled one costing $12,000.

    Also, Audi hadn’t yet established a reputation in the U.S. as a first tier luxury import marque (and some would argue this is still the case); they certainly didn’t have the sales numbers that Toyota has across several unimplicated models to help weather the storm. And at about the same time as the 60 Minutes report, Acura arrived in the United States, followed two years later by Lexus and Infiniti. So the Audi 5000′s price point was quickly crowded with new players in the luxury field, and even changing the name to its European moniker of “Audi 100″ (in 1989) didn’t help.

    By the way, Business Week recently reported that there are still sudden unintended acceleration lawsuits against Audi that remain unsettled.

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      That’s only part of it. Audi’s in that era were awful cars. Their reliability was just terrible. The only thing you could say about Audi in the early 80′s was that they weren’t as bad as a Jaguar. The 5000 in particular had problems with head gaskets and electronics, and the flush-fitted side windows were an endless source of NVH complaints.

      Audi didn’t take quality seriously until after the unintended acceleration mess. It wasn’t by coincidence. They responded to this by offering what I think was the first zero maintenance cost program. IIRC, Audi followed that up a few years later with one of the first CPO programs.

      This cost Volkswagen a fortune, but it was the only way to save the brand. If you want connection between Audi and Toyota, I think this one is it. Take what Audi had to do to get their customers and reputuation back – and multiply it by (your favorite big number here).

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      I completely agree with you on the quality issue; in fact, that’s probably the major reason why Audi was not seen as a first tier luxury import marque at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      mhadi

      Audi was not seen as luxury brand in Germany either. It was up a level from VW, but well beneath BMW. So let’s not make it a “luxury car” when it was not. Audi today is not what Audi was 30 years ago anywhere. lets not get carried away.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      With all due respect, mhadi, in the U.S. the 5000/100 was priced in line with BMW and Mercedes’ offerings.

      I’m not certain as to how familiar you are with our market, but U.S. versions of European automobiles typically come fully equipped with air conditioning, premium sound system, power assists and sunroof. The only exception may be VW, but in recent years even that marque has been moving upmarket and includes much of these amenities as standard equipment.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      My understanding is that, as a brand, Audi was pretty much dead by the late 1930s due to the Depression and the threat of World War II, though they continued to sell a few cars. It was dead after World War II and was not brought back until 1964 when the name was applied to a new 4-cylinder version of the god-awful 3-cylinder 2-stroke DKW.

      The DKW (and any car with a 2-stroke engine really) was a nasty little turd and a step below even Volkswagen. With the benefit of a 4-cylinder engine, the 1965 Audi 60 was only about on the same level as the VW Beetle. Supposedly, during the 1960s at least, Audis received their numerical names based on the horsepower that their engines put out.

      When the Audi 100 was first introduced to the U.S. market it (along with cars like the Volvo 140, Saab 99, Peugeot 504, BMW 2002, Alfa Romeo Berlina) was considered by most people to be an alternative to American compact cars like the Ford Maverick, Chevy Nova, Plymouth Valiant and AMC Hornet.

      By the 1980s, after U.S. cars had all been downsized, the Audi 5000 was a more expensive alternative to cars like the Chevy Celebrity, Ford Taurus, and Chrysler’s weird long-wheelbase K-Car derivatives (Dodge 600, Dodge Lancer, Chrysler LeBaron GTS). The performance of the 5000 was surprisingly similar to that of these American mid-sized cars of the same time period (The Chevy Celebrity 2.8 V-8 put out 116 horsepower). Audi came to be considered as something of an “upper-medium-priced” or “near-luxury” car, sort of like Buick or Mercury, and not terribly different from Acura or Volvo, seemingly based on price more than anything else.

      I’m not really sure when Audi really began to be perceived as a true luxury car, but I really don’t think it was until the V-8 models came along.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    “FreedMike: I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Audi’s fortunes only recovered in the late ’90s, with the introduction of the A6, which finally delivered on the style promise of the 5000 with performance (and reliability) to match.”

    I think the fortunes of Audi started improving with the release of the A4 in 95 (96 model). The new shape A6 didn’t arrive until 98/99 and by then Audi was doing pretty well here.

    I had a (june 95 Build) A4 Quattro with 176,000 miles that I only sold 18 months ago. Best car I have ever owned. After what happened with the 5000, I think VAG put extra QA effort into those early cars to make them right before they hit the US (almost a year after Europe). My car came with free maintenance for three years of 50,000 miles which put a lot of us prospective customers at ease.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    @Dynamic88

    Though the NHTSA “cleared” Audi, as far as pistonheads are concerned, they never really did find the problem.

    What do you expect? The NHTSA, a government agency, is going to clearly blame driver error?

    No. They’re going to do what the political class does when it comes to holding people responsible for their own stupid decisions. Obfuscate, imply, use lots of ambiguous words, and never come to a clear conclusion.

  • avatar
    baldheadeddork

    A burnout proves that brakes are always more powerful than an engine?

    So where did all of that tire smoke come from?

    The engine, even that wheezing, smog-choked Cadillac dinosaur that probably made less than 150hp at the rear wheels, had enough twist to overcome the brakes. The car didn’t move only because the tire that did get all the power didn’t have enough traction to overcome the resistance of the other three. Put enough power into a car with a locking diff and both drive axle brakes will be overpowered. Dump a crazy, Veyron-level of power into an AWD without a corresponding upgrade in brake surface area and friction, and all four tires will overpower their brakes.

    But a static brake test against an engine is pointless in a discussion about the Toyota recalls, so what happened with Audi isn’t even slightly relevant. These Toyota’s aren’t launching themselves from rest through garage walls. The problem here occurs when the car is already moving and accelerating because of whatever is causing the problem, and that throws your burnout and Audi example out the window.

    You’re right the law of physics haven’t been repealed. But you either didn’t understand or choose not to explain that stopping 4,000 pounds travelling at speed is a hell of a lot different from holding a car at rest during a burnout. How well would your theory of “brakes are always more powerful than engine” hold up in PJ’s Fleetwood if you were already moving at 50mph when he floored the gas and tried to stop? In all but a few production cars it’s not a lot of work to experience brake fade even without working against the engine. On a car like a Camry, Avalon – or an Audi 5000 – once the car is moving at any speed the brakes are going to be in deep trouble if they’re working against the engine running at WFO, too.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      On a car like a Camry, Avalon – or an Audi 5000 – once the car is moving at any speed the brakes are going to be in deep trouble if they’re working against the engine running at WFO, too.

      True, except there is a major difference in the scenario of the Audi 5000: Nearly all claims of sudden unintended acceleration stated that it occured from a complete standstill. In contrast, most of the Toyota claims I’ve read or heard of involve a failure of the throttle to return to idle while the car is moving at considerable speed, and the accelerator is released.

      So Paul’s illustration applied to the typical Audi 5000 scenario. It doesn’t match that of Toyota’s where the driver is having to brake in a situation of high speed, wide open throttle AND the resulting lack of engine vacuum to provide braking assist.

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      Paul certainly gave that impression that they were connected when he talked about the Audi story being timely because of Toyota’s problems and the laws of physics not being repealed. But maybe I’m a little sensitive to this after a week of reading stupid investment bloggers equate Toyota’s problems to the Exxon Valdez and (I swear I am not making this up) New Coke.

      BTW – whatthehell with Parnelli Jones driving a ’76 Fleetwood? I know it was the dark depths of the malaise era, but there were some interesting cars even back then. This is like hearing that Michael Schumacker is tapping Telia Tequila.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      If one thinks in terms of 1/2*m*v**2 (Kinetic Energy Equation), Paul’s comparison makes even less sense.

      All other things being equal (or understood to be non-comparable), Kinetic Energy:
      - was essentially absent with the 5000 debacle or in the Parnelli Jones example, these were examples of max engine torque;
      - is essentially everything (in additon to some engine torque) with the Toyota Debacle.

      In addition, it is not reasonable to compare the performance of a contemporary car with that of those from 25 and 30+ years ago, too many variables between a modern Toyota and the Audi 5000 experience or Parnelli Jones brake-torquing a Fleetwood (which ignored critical factors like brake system design, booster diameter and pressure, vacuum reservoir capacity, pumping/steady braking, rotational inertia of tires/wheels/propshafts, tire contact patch, hi/lo friction tire design, coefficient of friction between the tire and road-surface, wet/dry, etc. and etc.)

      Far as I’m concerned two broad comparisons are apply to Toyota:
      1. Audi was careless and did not take due care in adapting its driver controls to the target market or demographic (realistically, how many people in the market for an aenemic middle market automatic-transmission sedan have heard of heel-toe downshifts much less performing them? Toyota similarly did not understand typical customer usage (even after the mat recall in 2007.)
      2. Audi bungled their PR message by not aggressively getting out in front of the issue. Toyota too.

      Besides the difference in the physics, the comparisons of brake performance have too many Confounding Variables to be valid or taken seriously.

    • 0 avatar
      sellfone

      baldheadeddork said: >> But you either didn’t understand or choose not to explain that stopping 4,000 pounds travelling at speed is a hell of a lot different from holding a car at rest during a burnout….On a car like a Camry, Avalon – or an Audi 5000 – once the car is moving at any speed the brakes are going to be in deep trouble if they’re working against the engine running at WFO, too. <<

      Wrong. In the current (March 2010) issue of Car & Driver (page 34), they tested precisely what you are suggesting here. Use the brakes to stop a car traveling at 70 MPH with a pinned WOT (wide open throttle). Deep trouble did NOT ensue. Even a 540 HP Roush Mustang, one of three cars in the test stopped under these conditions.

      Incredibly, the Camry in this test needed only 16 (sixteen!) more feet to stop under these conditions than a non-pinned throttle Camry normally does. This business that a vehicle's braking system cannot overcome its (unintended) acceleration is BS. Just like the 60 Minutes Audi report.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      OMG, not this again. Modern car brakes can generate over 1,000 equivalent horsepower. That’s still well above what most cars’ engines produce. And high-performance cars’ brakes generate much more than that, over 2,000 hp.
      That’s why Toyota and the NHTSA and everyone else who understands the laws of physics says that in the case of a runaway car, firmly step on the brakes, because the are more powerful than the engine, by a substantial degree.

    • 0 avatar
      sellfone

      baldheadeddork said: “…stopping 4,000 pounds travelling at speed is a hell of a lot different from holding a car at rest during a burnout….On a car like a Camry, Avalon – or an Audi 5000 – once the car is moving at any speed the brakes are going to be in deep trouble if they’re working against the engine running at WFO, too.”

      Wrong. In the current (March 2010) issue of Car & Driver (page 34), they tested precisely what you are suggesting here. Use the brakes to stop a car traveling at 70 MPH with a pinned WOT (wide open throttle). Deep trouble did NOT ensue. Even a 540 HP Roush Mustang, one of three cars in the test stopped under these conditions.

      Incredibly, the Camry in this test needed only 16 (sixteen!) more feet to stop under these conditions than a non-pinned throttle Camry normally does. This business that a vehicle’s braking system cannot overcome its (unintended) acceleration is BS. Just like the 60 Minutes Audi report.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I’m not questioning the competence of modern braking systems.

      All I’m saying is that there are too many confounding variables, between the examples cited and the Toyota problem, for the examples to serve as anything more than a starting-point for a less anecdotially-based conclusion.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      OK, brakes generate more equivalent HP than engines. However, in the Toyota situations, the brakes have to overcome the racing engine, and the inertia of the car at speed. The brakes will do this (if they work correctly) but it takes time.

      Brake torquing shows the car’s engine can’t overcome it’s brakes. But there is no reaction time or inertia to consider.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      baldheadeddork: BTW – whatthehell with Parnelli Jones driving a ‘76 Fleetwood? I know it was the dark depths of the malaise era, but there were some interesting cars even back then.
      You failed today’s reading comprehension test. Jones was driving the producer’s car, not his.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      @ Sellfone:
      Wrong. In the current (March 2010) issue of Car & Driver (page 34), they tested precisely what you are suggesting here. Use the brakes to stop a car traveling at 70 MPH with a pinned WOT (wide open throttle). Deep trouble did NOT ensue. Even a 540 HP Roush Mustang, one of three cars in the test stopped under these conditions.

      Interesting. I thought Consumer Reports tried the same thing, but they couldn’t stop because they were pumping the brake. Pumping the brakes with a WOT problem at highway speed is a good way to die. But if you stand on them and hold them down, you will stop, although it may take a while.

      TTAC’s video division should test this out with a Camry.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Something to consider …

      “NHTSA also found evidence that in some crashes, owners were standing on the brakes yet unable to stop their vehicles. Toyota issued its first recall in September 2007 covering 55,000 vehicles.

      NHTSA began testing some of Toyota’s claims about the problem. It found that the brakes in the Lexus ES350 sedan could stop an engine at wide-open throttle — but only after 1,000 feet, and only with five times the amount of pressure usually needed to bring the car to a halt.”

      Does it take a Lexus 984 feet to normally stop?? So is the +16 ft delta cited above for a WOT-influenced stop when no pedal pumping has taken place?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I knew an Audi guy who once proposed to his management that they give him a budget, vacation, and a plane-ticket to go to the US, so that the could personally buy and scrap as many of the remaining 5000s as he could just to bring this saga to an end; his management declined the offer.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    This debacle is to the current Toyota pedal fiasco as the early-to-mid-1990s fake email virus was to actual email viruses thanks to Outlook.

    I remember when I’d get those email virus emails and they were kind of a joke, but then folks started hacking VBA.. I guess all jokes come true?

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    BTW notice how all auto trans cars cannot be pulled out of park without the foot on the brake??? Guess what caused that operational protocol to be mandated.
    Makes me ponder how much building that mechanical interlock on all cars has cost the public over the decades.

  • avatar
    amca

    I recall that someone concluded Audi unintended acceleration was strongly correlated with, get this:

    young, inexperienced drivers,

    and

    significantly older drivers.

    Duh.

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      I’d like to see the data on that.

      An Audi 5000 was an expensive car in its day. IIRC it was pretty close to $20K at a time when a loaded RX7 was $13K and an Audi Coupe was under $15K. (The dealer where I bought my RX7 in 1983 also sold Audi.) The number of young, inexperienced drivers who could afford that car was approximately zero, and it definitely wasn’t marketed to elderly drivers. The 5000 may not have been the first car aimed at the emerging Yuppie market, but it damn well didn’t waste any time catching up.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Young, inexperienced drivers = Sons and daughters of parental owners

      There were a few significantly older owner/drivers of the 5000; had there been more, the sudden unintended accerleration issue would not have been a relatively rare event.

      Another interesting factor in the demographic of those who experienced this issue: A disproportionate number of drivers were female.

    • 0 avatar
      sellfone

      I bet a demographic study would reveal that the “victims” of the 1980′s Audi UA events and today’s Toyota/Lexus events are VERY similar…if not the SAME EXACT people. Of course, I’m kidding. Maybe.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Actually, the Audi UA issue was very strongly correlated to women of short stature. Audi’s offset pedals made them more susceptible to stepping on the wrong one, because the offset angle was more extreme the closer the seat was pushed to them..

    • 0 avatar
      DaveDFW

      I’m dating myself, but I remember the statements made by Audi at the time exacerbated the situation. They said their research indicated that the UA incidents were occurring to “drivers under 5’5″ who were not the primary drivers of the vehicles.”

      The implication was clear–women were blamed, and specifically wives of the cars’ owners. There was quite an outcry from women’s groups.

      All enthusiasts knew the UA claims were specious–a gutless 130hp inline-5 can miraculously overpower a four-wheel-disc brake system from rest?–but the public perception was that Audis were deathtraps. The truth doesn’t matter when it becomes lost in hysteria.

      This is the dangerous position Toyota is finding itself in–no matter where the truth lies, once public opinion turns against you, there’s a long road ahead.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      ” Actually, the Audi UA issue was very strongly correlated to women of short stature. Audi’s offset pedals made them more susceptible to stepping on the wrong one, because the offset angle was more extreme the closer the seat was pushed to them..”

      Actually the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) found that of 200 people surveyed, who had experienced SA in their Audi 5000s, the average height was 1 inch above the national average. Most were neither very young nor very old drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        baygus

        Hmmm.. a survey, presumably of the ‘Audi Victims Network’ ambulance-chaser-chasers, found that the average height of accelerator-stampers who would respond to a survey (which may, or may not, have been phrased in terms of ‘prove we’re not all shortarses and ditzy trophy wives, some of us are just plain bad drivers’) was slightly above the national average height.

        This says absolutely nothing about whether the heights of the idiots involved was a) above the national average for persons of driving age (safe to assume that they didn’t compare against that) and b) far less about whether Audi drivers experiencing problems after stamping on the accelerator were similar in height to Audi drivers who could drive- given that both the typical ethnicity and the typical higher income of such drivers are both correlated with greater height.

        Apparently ‘victims’ of ‘un’inteded acceleration reported being “familiar with the car, had driven many years and were in the safest driving ages.” For a start, they obviously weren’t familiar with the car by definition as they stood on the accelerator. As for the rest.. holding a drivers license until your testosterone levels start to drop and you feel less need to do silly stuff (in the case of men) or just plain holding a drivers license (for the fairer sex) is hardly an endorsement of driving skill, or even competence.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      @Dynamic88
      Actually the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) found that…

      As an upstate New Yorker, I think I’d put more faith in studies by the CPUSA than NYPIRG.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      dynamic88; I’ll accept your facts over my memory on the height issue. That’s what I remember reading, but…

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Paul,

      I don’t doubt you read it somewhere. It’s been said and printed many times.

      My point isn’t that NYPIRG has to be taken as the final authority, but as far as I can find out the short stature excuse comes direct from Audi – and they may not have been the most objective observer. NYPIRG disputes it, and apparently has some facts to back their claim.

      If there were another study -broader in scope than NYPIRG’s – which showed short stature to be true, I’d accept it. I don’t know whether NHTSA ever tabulated the height of drivers.

  • avatar
    50merc

    The old joke was Bad Luck meant being a driver stuck in traffic with a Ford Pinto in front and an Audi 5000 behind him.

    I knew it was pedal confusion when I first heard of the SA tales. The 5000′s small brake pedal was close to the gas pedal, and the gas pedal was further left than was customary on big American cars. One reason I found GM’s big sedans especially comfortable was they allowed a wider stance (please, no comparisons with a certain Senator) instead of forcing the driver to keep his knees pressed together.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    “the brand almost abandoned the U.S. in 1993″

    The 60 minutes report with the rigged Audi did indeed nearly obliterate Audi off the face of the North American continent. Fear mongering, taking things out of context and a completely bogus rigged car was enough to totally confuse the public into a state of wretched paranoia. We now know that, at least on 60 minutes, Audi was framed.

    “An ‘expert’ had rigged the Rube Goldberg device to shift the big Audi into drive and, like any automatic-equipped car, move forward (unless the brakes are depressed).”

    What is important to note is the reaction Audi had to this whole thing. Audi did just take it on the chin and it was unbelievably painful. Long term, somehow Audi found a way to survive. People (GM, Toyota, other corporations) should study how Audi kept on going.

    My first car was an Audi 5000 manual that I started driving in the mid 90′s. Never did it unintentionally accelerate. Yes I stalled it and put a dent in the side but other than that it was a decent car. Even better once the electric system was fixed by someone that knew what they were doing. Nice interior with little “maid clip” headrests lol. Oh yeah and absurdly long silver trim on the side.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    I guess I must be the exception since my 1981 Audi 5000 was practically bulletproof. The only thing not routine in the years I owned it was a failing clutch hydraulic cylinder which I replaced myself. Fuel mileage was good and, in central Texas, I never felt it was underpowered.

    At my divorce, I kept our Mercedes, which turned out to be a maintenance nightmare and my ex-wife kept the Audi. She drove it trouble-free for quite a while and then sold it for practically nothing during the UA frenzy.

  • avatar
    packv12

    Not really an Audi story here, but I remember walking past a parking lot while doing an errand. Lady in a Volvo put her car in reverse and raced across the lot smashing into a car, then putting it into drive and slamming into another car. She was shaken up quite a bit, stating to anyone who would listen about unintended acceleration and malfunctioning brakes. It was bizarrely fun to watch, for some strange reason.

    The cops arrived to sort out most of the details, and they thought there might have been a vehicle problem. I told one of the cops that I never saw a brake light during the whole performance, and he reported it to one of the cops checking out the wreck. The second cop, once told, depressed the brake pedal, and the brake lights glowed their intention.

    I think that it may have changed their write up of the accident report, but it is always easier to blame the machine rather then take responsibility for your own actions.

    Although she believed she was depressing the brake, facts lead one to believe that she was totally confused. It has become the normal process these days, in which we deny culpability for our actions and look to somebody else to blame

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      I think that it may have changed their write up of the accident report, but it is always easier to blame the machine rather then take responsibility for your own actions.

      I’ll add my anecdotal 2 cents… Having known a wrecker driver or three, I think a lot of wrecks are caused by the trash beneath pedals and the confusion that ensues.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    I have had the UA problem when craning my neck/body around backing up and my feet move from where they usually are. I catch it but it’s still something that takes a split second to react to. This is in a late model Explorer, the gas pedal and brake are almost on top of one another. Happened to me twice. The problem is that when you go to press the brake you do it with a LOT of force, especially when it doesn’t seem to do its job at first. The second time it happened I managed to lock up the tires after finding the brake after moving backwards only about a meter.

    In a stick shift I have a clutch acting as the mediator at slow speed and it’s the type of transmission I am most familiar with. Not having that disconnect in an automatic is something I am not altogether comfortable with. My left foot on the clutch acts as a sort of anchor and as I said the final word on what the car is doing at low speed.

    I don’t think I will ever buy an automatic transmission car, my motor controls just aren’t conditioned for them. I cover the brake and gas at the same time and fiddle with the throttle a lot. It’s irritating that I am stuck with automatics when in a company vehicle/rental because no one else can handle a stick shift. I guess I can’t handle an automatic though.

    Maybe it’s just where they put the pedals in the Explorer. I’d rather they were spaced further apart (in all three dimensions) so it would be harder to mistake them for each other.

    • 0 avatar
      Highway27

      I noticed the same thing in an Explorer. My size 12 wides would touch both the edge of the brake pedal and the center console (spanning the gas pedal) in a 2007 Explorer when I had to drive them for work. And my foot could momentarily get hung up on the brake when trying to shift from gas to brake. Not a comfortable feeling, and makes me glad I don’t drive those vehicles much… not to mention their other ergonomic nightmares.

  • avatar
    Flipper

    The brakes don’t even have to overcome the engine @ all if the owner is clear minded enough to shift the car into neutral.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Flipper,

      I wonder if it isn’t time to revise the shift quadrant? It’s been done before.

      As older BB will know, GMs quadrant used to read PNDSLR. Reverse was next to low, and sometimes people would “feel” the wrong gear and go forward when they meant to reverse (or maybe the other way around in some cases).

      The common layout now is PRNDL (Prnundle – made famous on an episode of Green Acres) Sometimes of course there is D1 or D2 or S in there somewhere to the right of N.

      It would seem the simplest thing in the world to be able to put the tranny in N by feel. Just move up by one notch. But I’m not sure that most drivers of slush boxes have even thought of the idea that the tranny can be slipped into N at say 70mph.

      In a panic situation, I don’t know that people can feel the notch that well. Additionally, when the car is accelerating and there is traffic to be avoided, taking your eyes off the road to look at the gear selector may not be a good idea. I’m also not sure of the wisdom of shifting, accidentally, into R at speed. It’s a great technique for moonshiners to do a reverse 180, but I’m not sure I want my wife trying to cope with it.

      So, my thought for the day is this – PRNDLN. A second Neutral position that does not require going back towards R. The second N would always be farthest to the right (or down for us CR-V drivers) For cars with an automatic lever in the console, it would be furthest back towards the driver. The driver would simply slam the shifter into the second N position, which would require little in the way of feel, and no need for a visual check.

    • 0 avatar
      Ion

      I don’t think adding another Neutral is necessary, getting rid of those stupid manu-matic/tip-tronic shift gates and having a universal automatic gate would be a better option.

    • 0 avatar
      eamiller

      @Dynamic88
      You really need to make sure you understand how modern shift gates work before postulating a change in the system that has been around for 30+ years.

      With ALL cars built with brake-shift interlocks, it is IMPOSSIBLE to hit reverse without stepping on the brake. In fact, the “shift into neutral” is so important that you can move freely in all cars from N to D without pushing any shift buttons (floor/console mounted shifters) or pulling the shifter towards you (column mounted). Go ahead and try it in your car. I guarantee it will work that way.

      Therefore, every car involved in this Toyota debacle can be shifted into Neutral with almost no effort on the part of the driver (push forward). There is no “finding detents” or anything. The shifter will stop in neutral no matter how hard the driver tries to go to “R”. It is impossible for confusion.

      Also, I think us enthusiasts overestimate the usage of “manumatic” shift gates. I think this is probably the least used feature of modern cars ever. It is the “carrot” they have used to get diehard manual trans users to buy autos for the sake of saving money on development. If customer usage approached 1% I would eat my hat. Seriously, with ketchup and everything.

      Also, changing the shift-gate standard would likely cause MORE accidents since people are used to the current design. Often, the user interface that you are used to is better than the “easier” new interface because of the inherent learning curve of ANY new interface.

    • 0 avatar
      Whuffo2

      While everyone pontificates about “just shift to neutral” – I suspect that they might have missed a change in “shift linkage” that started 10 years or more ago.

      That automatic transmission shifter you see is nothing more than a fancy switch – it’s dressed up to look like the same old shifter but it’s not. All it does is provide an electrical input to a computer that controls the transmission.

      So when you “just shift to neutral” there’s more going on than just a lever pulling on a cable. And if the onboard computer(s) are malfunctioning, you might find that flapping that gear selector around does exactly nothing.

      If you study the control systems in a modern car, you’ll discover that many of the driver controls are computer inputs disguised as old-timey controls. Something that some manufacturers seem to assume is that the computer(s) and communications network in the car will always be working correctly. That’s a bad assumption.

      Machines that could cause loss or harm to persons or property should always be designed to “fail safe”. That’s basic engineering ethics – but some automotive engineers must not have considered that their wonderful designs might fail in strange and mysterious ways. We see examples of their thinking on the roads around us every day.

      Heck, with the throttle and shift linkage being done “by wire” there’s opportunity for mishap. Hybrids put braking “by wire” into the mix and that isn’t a comforting thought. When I see the commercials for cars with the self-parking systems I realize that those vehicles have the computer interfaced with the steering too. I predict that we’ll be reading about some very troubling automotive failures in the not-too-distant future.

  • avatar
    wmba

    I agree with Paul wholeheartedly. Instead of theorizing about whether your car’s brakes can stop your car from speed with the throttle pinned, go find an empty road and try it yourself. I did.

    It was on the way home from work this week. I’d just bought my new C/D, funnily enough.

    Anyway, I floored my Legacy GT in sport sharp, and it slammed back into 2nd (auto), and took off. At 5000 rpm with the turbo whistling, approximately 50 mph, I slammed on the brake with my left foot. The car came to a stop with no drama whatsoever, with the engine still trying hard and even shifting back to first. It obviously does not have the “kill throttle if brake is applied” software feature. Nor does it need it.

    Then at home, I got to read the March C/D where they found exactly what I had, that stopping a Camry at WOT from 70 or even 100 mph is easy with the brakes. My Legacy has way more wick than a standard Camry.

    So can we get over this? The brakes will win every time if you stand on them. People generally don’t stand hard on the brakes, no matter what they say they did. That’s why these EBF brake systems are available from so many makers. If you make a sudden stab at the brakes, they’ll grab hard for you, even if you don’t push hard enough yourself. Every time I read that someone had two feet on the brake and the car wouldn’t stop, I know I’m reading horse manure.

    I had five Audis, including a 1985 5000 turbo with a magnificent 130hp. Only problem was I bought it from a friend, and didn’t really like it compared to my Audi Coupe. It was a bus, so after a year, I went and got an Audi 4000 quattro, which was a reliability nightmare, but great to drive. I also witnessed a woman driver back up her regular Audi 5000 into a store front, after crossing the road. Her brake lights never came on. The one unbroken rear brake light after the incident worked fine. She blamed it on the car. Wrong. BTW, my (Audi owner)friend’s wife was 5′ 2″, and they changed from a Caprice Classic. She never had any problems with UA, and was an abominably bad driver in all other regards.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      Anyway, I floored my Legacy GT in sport sharp, and it slammed back into 2nd (auto), and took off. At 5000 rpm with the turbo whistling, approximately 50 mph, I slammed on the brake with my left foot.

      Of course, Subie’s corporate IT (Blog Action Dept) is now processing the cancellation of your power train warranty coverage :)

    • 0 avatar
      littlehulkster

      Actually, just a point of clarification, a V6 Camry (Which is what C&D tested) has more HP than a Legacy GT.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    People don’t “stand on” their brakes. I as an adult male can probably generate enough braking force to overcome most braking situations. A female may not be able to generate nearly as much force, and most people will never press on their brakes hard enough to overcome a runaway throttle condition. Especially if the braking is not hard enough to begin with. It will not take long of too little force to cause serious brake fade from overheating and leading to no braking action. Put some miles on those pads, they’ll heat up in a heartbeat and not stop a runaway lawnmower.

    WRT, to Audi issue… a friend of mine had been doing some engine dyno testing with Audi Engineering. They were not convinced they did not have a runaway throttle valve. They had managed to produce the condition under some unlikely circumstances that should have not been seen in the real world. But, that’s all 3rd hand info from many many years ago :)

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      I wonder if there has been any analysis of whether the drivers in unintended acceleration incidents have any experience driving a car with non-power brakes, where you actually needed to use some muscle power. I suspect few people younger than 40-45 or so have ever driven a car with non-power brakes, except old car hobbyists of course. I can think of at least 5 cars I have owned with manual brakes (two Corvairs, ’70 Maverick, VW Bug and ’65 Buick Special). I have also driven a ’55 Cadillac with manual brakes, now that is something to give you appreciation of needing to put your foot into it to slow the beast down.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      My little old mom was driving a ’69 Cougar 351 w/FMX, with unassisted 4-wheel drum brakes as late as 1989! (and from time to time driving with two feet… one on the brake, one on the gas, and to stop, two on the brake…)

    • 0 avatar
      photog02

      In panic braking situations, they do something that is roughly the equivalent of standing on the pedal… Additionally, there is very little difference between males and females as far as actual force exerted on a brake pedal in panic braking situations.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I can tell you authoritatively my manual-tranny 1986 GTI did suffer unintended acceleration. It’d be going, say, 30 and suddenly surge to 45 without the benefit of either of my feet. The problem was traced to a defective solenoid connected to the throttle linkage; it would physically move the throttle cable by itself.

      That car drove like a dream and held up like a nightmare. I lost count of its defects at 60 when I sold it with about 60K on the clock (I say “about” because the odometer itself was one of the failures). But I digress.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    Re: “It would seem the simplest thing in the world to be able to put the tranny in N by feel. Just move up by one notch. But I’m not sure that most drivers of slush boxes have even thought of the idea that the tranny can be slipped into N at say 70mph. ”

    I was talking about this with my son the other day, and so I asked my wife if she knew how to put on automatic into neutral while driving, and I was stunned that she said she didn’t know how. (This is a woman who grew up on a farm and can drive a grain truck.)

    We drive mostly manuals, but the minivans have been automatics. I told her you just bump the shift lever up out of drive and a detent will hold it in neutral. I think there are a lot of people who, in a panic situation, wouldn’t know what to do. And most people wouldn’t put nearly enough force on their brakes to overwhelm the engine and would thus end up with rapid brake fade.

  • avatar
    Btrig

    Pahaska said:
    “I guess I must be the exception since my 1981 Audi 5000 was practically bulletproof. The only thing not routine in the years I owned it was a failing clutch hydraulic cylinder which I replaced myself. Fuel mileage was good and, in central Texas, I never felt it was underpowered.”

    You’re not alone, I’m sure lots of Audi owners had a good experience. I drove a 1985 5000S Turbo Quattro 5 speed with all the options for a few years, never had a lick of trouble.The car was an absolute joy to drive in inclement weather, stuck to the road like nothing else at the time.
    Back then I had a 70 mile roundtrip commute 6 days a week, and that car was perfect for me.

    I suspect a lot of the negative comments about it here are probably due to people abusing the cars or expecting muscle-car performance. The Audi was not a drag racer, more like a grand tourer. At least the turbo was. I did once drive a non-turbo automatic, and that was a real slug. Then again, all non-V8 automatics were back then.

  • avatar
    Ion

    huh, I never really wondered how the Park brake lock came to be. I do know several ways to defeat one if you need to push a car or how to rig one up into a cheap anti-theft device.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Reasoning by analogy often leads to errors. The current Toyota situation might sound like the same thing as the Audi deal, but that doesn’t mean it is.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      From the introduction:
      But please note that the circumstance that caused the Audi UA are very different (from the Toyota situation).
      Was that not clear enough, John?

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      Paul, not when you lead with “It seems particularly relevant again in light of the current Toyota unintended acceleration (UA) situation.”

      Want to talk more about reading comprehension?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      “Relevant” and “the same thing as the Audi deal” are not in any way…the same thing. Please look up the meaning of relevant if you must. I said “relevant” specifically because I wanted to point out how different the circumstance then were, and the handling of it. Yes, there may have been some similarities, but I couldn’t have made it clearer that the reasons for the Audi UA were all too obviously different than in the current Toyota cases.

    • 0 avatar
      baldheadeddork

      Then what is the relevance between the Toyota SUA recalls and your story? If the causes are different, and if 60 Minutes hasn’t rigged a Camry to duplicate SUA on camera, then what do they have in common? What connection are you trying to make?

  • avatar
    gzuckier

    my dad had a sudden unintended acceleration incident with my mother’s Dodge Aries, no less. although the mighty 2.4 liter engine caused the front bumper to impact the garage door with enough force to cause no visible damage whatsoever under close scrutiny, one tire did manage to leave a quite impressive patch of rubber on the driveway. Being of poor but honest stock, my father’s comment on the incident was “i guess i stepped on the gas instead of the brake”.

  • avatar

    On a semi-related note, I think one of the factors that hurt Audi in the U.S. in the late eighties was price inflation, caused in part by fluctuations in the exchange rate of the dollar to the mark. In 1982, a dollar bought you 2.4 DM, but from 1987 to 1989, it bought only about 1.8 DM, falling to about 1.65 in 1990-1994. In 1982, a 5000S sedan started under $14K, but by 1988, the last year for the 5000 nameplate, it was over $22K, and a 1991 100 sedan ran $29K.

    BMW and Mercedes had equally alarming price hikes, but they were better established as luxury brands, and Mercedes managed to use outrageous prices as a selling point for many years…

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    The 5000 also had engine compartment fire issues. Apparently after British Columbia’s Coquihalla Highway was built with the biggest grades of any major highway in North America, they were routinely catching fire on the climbs.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I don’t know why, but this comment had me LOL. Thanks.

      (I think it is the use of the word “routine” that did it for me … just a mental image of the shoulder filled with smoking german sedans…)

    • 0 avatar
      mistrernee

      Mostly Dodge Neons nowadays.

      Trying to get a propane powered Dodge Spirit loaded with 4 people up those damn hills (with the a/c blasting) was one of the most miserable trips of my life. The ATF even boiled over.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    The BC Coquihalla Hwy did managed to chew up many cars, Jags, Audis and God knows what others.
    It has a steeped climb and descend, if your car’s brake cooling system is not up to snuff then is best not to push her hard at all.
    Especially going uphill with A/C on, it also taxed a lot of the cooling capacity with a hot condenser infront.

    One time I drove through at night, I was in the fog for a few secs, I thought I was on the way to see the good Lord.

  • avatar
    MOSullivan

    The unintended acceleration fiasco happened in the 80s when German automotive engineering was still the gold standard. Audi charged German prices but delivered kwality cars. They were fragile, troublesome, aggravating and expensive to repair. People who had paid for a premium German car and found they’d gotten a German Jaguar instead wouldn’t defend Audi or buy another one. Audi got what it deserved even if the specifics of the case against it were incorrect.

    Audis in those years were a foretaste of what German cars would become in the 90s and 00s. They were long on advanced engineering and short on quality.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      They were fragile, troublesome, aggravating and expensive to repair.

      Sadly, the Audi transaxle and other components were also used in the Porsche 924/944, which were affordable to many newly minted business school grads in the early- to mid-1980s.

      To this day the repair costs have soured me, and probably many other baby boomers, on the idea of Porsche ownership.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    130 HP. LOL. That wasn’t until later in the model run when they bored out the anemic 2.1 liter 5 cylinder engine to 2.3 liters. The 1984 Audi 5000 started out with only 100 HP which when combined with the harsh shifting automatic made for sloth slow acceleration and gas mileage that wasn’t much if any better than my 1981 Olds Cutlass with a V8. The 1985 Turbo version is the engine that cranked out 130 HP I believe in that time era. My uncle who still runs the same garage to this day worked mainly on Audi/VW and Porche. He got many family members into the 5000 during the later 80′s and believe me when I tell you his business was booming due to the astronomical frequency of repair rates on those turds. Needless to say not one family member owns an Audi today but my uncle still sells and services the newer ones. He has had to expand to other foreign makes to keep his business alive because there are so few Audi drivers around my parts today. The 5000 saw to that.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    My buddy called his 5000 ‘Hitler’s Revenge’.

  • avatar
    captain jim

    i couldn’t care less about audi’s or most cars in existence today but i have spend many hours studying the DOT database and there is one thing very clear SUA exists and Audi, Toyota, Ford and other manuf. have replicated it. as its definition is evolving, currently, it did not exist before the addition of the electronic cruise control module to the electronics package. mr. niedermeyer, if you would like to help publize the problem and affect a cure, please contact me.

  • avatar
    jose carlos

    This certainly did not help the brand. I used to have a Audi 80 (4000 in the US). Back in 1989, while in the US, I mentioned a colleague that I was driving a Audi. I remember her expression of astonishment while adding something like “yours should be good”. What eventually killed my affection to the brand was their average quality and crap service. Once sold I never went back into a Audi dealer again. Period.

  • avatar
    musiccitymafia

    I had a 1994 Audi 4000S (precursor to the quattro?) which I bought used in the summer of 1998. I experienced UA many many times in the period 1989 – 1991 … maybe 50 to 100 times!!! I also think I know what caused the problem because I fixed it. Every time these “Racing 5000″ speculations come up I start chuckling. Let me say once and for all that in every one of my cases the UA had absolutely nothing to do with confusion between the gas and the brake pedals. My story:

    In almost every case I had just taken my foot off the brake and was applying the gas to get rolling from a stop. Instead of reving up slowly from 800 odd rpm the engine would race up to 5000 rpm and hold at about this level. Most of the time I was going forward but sometimes it was reverse. Here’s the kicker … I had a manual tranny and was releasing the clutch pedal when the revving started. All I did each time was push the clutch back down and let the car continue revving as it slowly rolled. If something was in the way I applied the brakes.

    Sometimes the engine kicked back down after I tapped the gas pedal with my foot a few times. Other times I had to turn it off and back on again. Usually, but not always, the UA revving only occured once leading to my speculation that it was linked to a cold engine. In fact, the worst period I had was the cold winter of 1989/90 when I was living in Northernish Ontario. I recall having to repeat the start engine/begin to move/engine revving/stop engine/start engine/begin to move/engine revving/stop engine cycle quite a few times that winter.

    A few times (maybe 5 to 10) the car would rev up as soon as I started it. I don’t recall touching the gas peddle in these cases. I’d just turn it off and back on again.

    Now, I recall that in the summer of 1990 I sprung a small leak and had to carry a small plastic container around (a one quart milk jug cut in half.) When I was travelling at speed and it rained I would squeeze the jug between the heel of my left foot and the sidewall of the car where it would collect water (the jug spilled on more than one occasion if I needed to press in the clutch and forgot to grab it with my hand.)

    I replaced the control module that was located down there purely because I reasoned that water was getting into it due to it’s location. That didn’t solve the problem. In 1991 I had the window resealed. The UA/revving problem ended.

    I don’t know for certainty that my problem and it’s apparent causes are exactly the same as those in the Racing 5000s … but … I know what I experienced. And I chuckle at some of the wild speculations.

    Last comment – other than the revving issue I loved that car … it was smaller and hence lighter than the 5000 but shared the same engine I believe. It had enough zip because being manual I could accelerate as fast as I chose to operate the clutch and gears. I had no maintenance or break-down issues to speak of. I sold it for $700 in Pittsburgh in 1995.

  • avatar
    1964C2

    While I would be one of the last to defend the skill level of the average driver, I do get upset to see that there is still doubt of a problem with the Audi other than pedal placement, including Audi’s official position. I have first hand experience with a real event in a loaner Audi 5000 in the early 80′s. I was headed downhill and engaged the cruise control at about 55 mph, at that point, the gas pedal went all the way to the floor, and touching the brake pedal would not disengage the throttle. I also could not lift the gas pedal with my toe. In the end I simply turned the cruise control off and the pedal returned. NOT my imagination, NOT driver error, period.

  • avatar
    russification

    I had an audi 5000 in 1993 of the vintage being discussed here. an 86 I believe. the car was my first car out of college and I loved it. it had a great stereo, the sun roof was a thrill, and the particular one my dad had bought for me was in near pristine condition. I redlined my audi on the kennedy expressway in chicago at about 3AM and can possitively attest to the intended acceleration of this fine automobile. I replaced the four disc brakes and the car was an absolute joy to own. shame on cbs and 60 minutes for dogging a 1st class car and a top rate manufacturer

    • 0 avatar
      marble_car

      140HP in 80s and 90s was considerable engine power. They were excellent cars then and even now very decent bargain. I would recommned everyone to try it. It still has a lot driving pleasure to offer to a driver.

  • avatar
    marble_car

    I am asking all of you, how come that UA happen nowhere else in the whole world except in the USA? Remember that FAW Hongqi from China manufactured their CA 7200 and 7220 models which were replicated Audi 5000 and even their cars from those times had no UA reported, if we consider that quality of Audi 5000 was a bit higher than CA’s.

    Aside from those UA cause by unliterated, Audi 5000 is extraordinary car. For tuning fans especially. Comfortable, reliable, easy on fuel consumption (especially diesel variant which matches even the latest today’s cars in consumption and in many other things). A/C is functionin perfectly, and not decreasing torque so much that you need to turn it off. It has not much power reserve, but a good driver will enjoy driving this car no matter the conditions.

  • avatar
    Swedish

    I bought a used 1985 Audi 5000 for $300 in college – the power windows, sunroof all had failed and the automatic transmission was slipping. I ASSUMED it being a German performance sedan would have 4 wheel disc brakes only to be disappointed to realize Audi was still using DRUM brakes – my first car a 1978 Volvo 245DL wagon had 4 wheel disc brakes. At the same time I owned the Audi 5000 I owned a 1985 Volvo 740GLE – the difference in quality between the cars are night & day. I never bought another Audi and have stuck with Volvos since. If I want a German car I will buy a Mercedes the quality of Audi & BMW is subpar for the money they charge.


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