By on February 12, 2010

In the let’s-do-something-anything dept., Toyota engineers are now re-jigging the keyless ignition button, reports Das Autohaus in Germany. According to a Toyota corporate spokesperson, the re-jigged button will cut the engine when the button is pressed three times in rapid succession.

Up to now, the button had to be pressed for three seconds to stop the engine.

Whether manic jabbing the start/stop button is more intuitive than keeping your thumb on it – or, heavens forbid – to hit the brakes and to shift into neutral – remains an open question.

“Darling, the pedal is stuck.”

“Wait, I get the owner’s manual – says here to press the button for three seconds.”

“The dealer said three times.”

“The manual says three seconds.”

“Don’t you start arguing with me.”

“You started it!”

“You stop it right now!”

“YOU stop it!”

“I’m calling my lawyer.”

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55 Comments on “Toyota Engineers Working On Emergency Stop Button...”

  • avatar

    In related recall news, one of TTAC’s favorite German automaker VW has recalled 200000 cars in Brazil ( So far no mention of that in Toyota Hate Central.

    • 0 avatar

      Bad lube job. VW didn’t grease the wheels enough in Brazil. Inexcusable …

    • 0 avatar

      Nasty flashback: the CV joint of my Brazilian made 2000 Golf failed while I was driving on the I-93 in Boston. I think the car was about a month old at the time. No lubrication was the cause.

    • 0 avatar

      Which leads to a minor inconvenience of wheels loosening and even falling off – just about as likely as breaks failing on a Prius.

      If Toyota didn’t grease the wheels enough, we would have had a “TTAC’s Complete Guide To Toyota’s Greases”

    • 0 avatar

      Yesterday, I was called a conspiracy nut. Today, I’m a Toyota hater.

      As I said, we are equal opportunity offenders.

      Reporting from Tokyo, Bertel

    • 0 avatar

      hey bertel, i’m feeling up for a little malicious friday mobbing … hummm, don’t know if you are a toyota-hater, but you’re german … aw shucks, any further and I risk invoking Godwin’s Law … poo! ;O)

      Say Drifter, How many people have been killed, injured, suffered major property damage due to the lube issue? How long has VW known about it? How quickly have they moved to rectify it? Did they hide behind blaming the owner for not installing the grease?

      I’m no Toyota-hater but it may appear that I play one on TTAC, if only because their performance on this topic from beginning-to-here has been so terribly poor, like the best of the bad-ol-Detroit days.

      I was born, raised, educated in Detroit, working there until 11 years ago, and have been involved with the auto industry for 25+ years in a number of professionial and management capacities. Every time I heard someone speak of the Japanese “stealing market share or customers” it angered me. My response was always: “they’re not stealing, they’re EARNING, one customer at a time, you prepared the way for them, and until you wake-up to and address this, you will continue to bleed customers, sales and profits!”

      When I first came to TTAC, they were that harsh on the D3, that I wondered if it might have been a front for Toyota, but since their opinions about what was wrong in Detroit mirrored my experiences and long-held beliefs (that and it was entertaining), so I hung around. I’m glad I did.

      And in the meantime, TTAC has proven itself to be a bit like Sesame Street’s Oscar The Grouch, in that they seem to hate all deserving parties with equal vigor.

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t trust the Brazilians with putting lube on car parts anyway as I’d be worried they’d use it for other personal purposes.

  • avatar

    Definitely not intuitive. The only other similar situation is your home PC for which you would press and hold the power button. I also don’t think turning off a car on a hill or winding road or busy traffic is a good idea.

    My bet is that NHTSA and others will make a recommendation for all drive by wire autos to have a certain set of fail safe mechanisms following a common standard. I doubt this idea from Toyota will make that list.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I find stabbing the button to be highly intuitive … and I made this recommendation here on TTAC when this issue popped-up in (was it) December?

      If you ever watched people play arcade games, or waiting at elevators, or most anything to do with a button that did not have a function like that on a telephone or keyboard (not counting the escape and enter keys), you would have noticed people stabbing joyfully away at that single key as if each additional stab was going to accelerate the device in the performance of its function.

      Other ideas:

      Button should respond to a full and constant press of 2 seconds OR 3 stabs, this would just be a s/w reflash.

      Bezel or button should have text added to indicate this, as per Bertel’s example, there is no time to read the manual when you need to know what to do quickly…

      Other physical option would be a two piece button … there are numerous configurations possible … but i think this would be more confusing as to use and less reliable than the current button…

      Finally, could keep button as it is and add an emergency rip-cord with a D-ring style handle … pull this, and stop the engine, the car, blow the airbags, set the 4-way flashers, and call the cops…

      Edit: I just read Shaker’s comment about slippery N.E. roads … amend my D-ring rip-cord list to add, “pyrotechnically fire a cable-connected barbed projectile into the roadway to immediately arrest vehicle.)

    • 0 avatar

      What about pushing the button for the emergency flashers? This is just a quick, random idea without any thought given to the implications, but I wonder…

      In some states it’s illegal to drive with the flashers on. However, if it’s necessary to have the option of letting the vehicle move with them on, I’m sure the software could allow it: When vehicle is stopped or moving at less than 20 MPH, the flashers work as they do now, but if the vehicle is moving more than 20 MPH, it cuts the throttle until the vehicle speed goes below 5 MPH.

      Or have all options mentioned…okay, maybe that’s overkill.

      But I have to say that repeated button presses might work. Ever watch people who are waiting for a slow elevator to arrive?

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      3 quick button presses sounds okay by me: if one button press doesn’t shut it down, try again and again. Nissan already uses this.

    • 0 avatar

      I have read elsewhere that Nissan/Infiniti pushbuttons already shutdown the engine if the button is pressed 3 times rapidly.

      The behavior can probably be easily accomplished with a re-flash of the proper computer. This pushbutton behavior is controlled undoubtedly by software.

      There does need to be a standard behavior for this ignition pushbutton. One single press while the engine is running is probably dangerous since the driver loses all power for driving and assist by one (possibly) inadvertent press of the button.

      There are ergonomics experts (like folks who design jet cockpits) who study and understand the best layout for controls. Consult them.

  • avatar

    So, not only was Del Shannon singing “Runaway” to this article (BOOM!), he was being circled by “Go-Go Girls” (BOOM! POW!).

    I’m here, all weak.

    I believe that the “Start/Stop” buttons on cars should be programmed to shut the car off when it’s pressed with a series of three long, three short, three long.

    But stopping a car this way could be very problematic on the bobsled track-like roads that are presently in the Northeast.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Skip the kill switch. I ride a motorcycle and a scooter, and am well versed at what can happen when somebody hits the kill switch when the motor is in gear.

    Imagine the possibilities. The kill switch will have to account for the electricity that’s about to be generated with the regenerative braking system. Sounds like adding even more complexity to an already very complex system.

    Instead, I suggest they use something that dates back to World War II. It’s totally mechanical, so no electrical gremlins can befuddle it. There’s no software to get The Woz in a state of worry.

    Yes, that’s right, the ejector seat, powered by our old friend 20mm cannon shell. Totally analog. Pretty reliable.

  • avatar

    A new reason to love my manual transmission cars. The only automatic is a Prius, but the transmission lever is close enough to the steering wheel that it’s a simple easy motion to slap it into neutral.

    I’m assuming that the problem is that they need to guard against accidental shutoff by either the driver or a passenger. They could relocate the button to the left of the driver (in lhd cars). That would discourage the passenger or the driver mistaking it for the radio volume. Another approach is instant shutoff when the brake pedal and button is depressed at the same time.

    The best solution would be an emergency circuit breaker that actually cuts the circuit. Currently, the computer has to notice that the driver has depressed the off button and grant the driver’s request to power the vehicle down. You need a “HAL” button that kills the engine without the permission of the computer.

    • 0 avatar

      Reason button is inboard is two-fold, and owing to historical placement of the ignition key cylinder (not counting SAAB) first on the IP, then on the st. column.

      Inboard is better because: 1. Most people are rt. handed, 2. When window is open, it is less possible for person outside to reach the button, 3. button is accessible to passenger in the event of an emergency.

    • 0 avatar

      Fords had the (key) ignition switch on the left side of the steering wheel for exactly the reason you stated. One of Henry’s kids turned the key off when it was located to the right of the steering wheel. Henry ordered the key switch moved to the left side of the steering wheel. It remained there until the 60’s.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps, but that was then and this is now … unless the kid has more than the usual amount of simian genes, given baby seats and seatbelts, I don’t think any of them would be able to get their hand anywhere hear the key/button…

      btw, relative to ease of access to passenger in the event of an accident, this is why the 4-way switch has migrated from the RH side of the st. column shroud to the center of the IP.

    • 0 avatar

      tced2, I wonder if that was also the reason for Chrysler products having the transmission pushbuttons on the left edge of the IP, after two years of having the little transmission lever right of the steering column.

  • avatar

    As others have said, definitely not intuitive. But then again, I’m not even sure that a driver of a runaway car would have the intuition to turn a traditional key.

    Maybe a kill switch on the seat, like on my riding mower? To immediately kill the engine, the driver would simply have to lift his or her…on second thought, that could prove problematic on bumpy roads.

  • avatar

    I really don’t get the fascination with these darn buttons. I’ll stick with my keys thanks.

    Why not just have a big red stop button. Push it and the cars stops.
    If you aren’t smart enough, or coordinated enough to work with this simple design, perhaps you aren’t capable of safely driving.

    • 0 avatar

      After the car is immediately stopped, it will be rear-ended. You may create a hazard where there wasn’t one before by an inadvertent press.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, I should have worded that better. I don’t mean “stop the car”. I meant stop the engine, turn it off.
      You can then stop normally without the engine going nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      I really don’t get the fascination with these darn buttons. I’ll stick with my keys thanks.

      I used to feel that way, too.

      Then I bought a car in 2007 with this feature, and winter came. After the first time that it’s the end of a long work day, AND it’s windy and 0°F (-18°C), AND you’ve just walked across your office parking lot, AND you’re wearing a sweater vest, sports jacket and long topcoat and gloves, AND you’re carrying your keys in your pants pocket, AND you’re absent minded and forget to put your key into your gloved hand before donning all those layers and braving the cold…well, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as having an RF fob in your pocket that allows you to press one button on the door to unlock the car, and one to start the engine. All without unbuttoning and digging into layers of your own clothing.

      Sure, I could live without it, but once you have one, you’re ruined.

  • avatar

    This is what all this electronic complexity has come to.In addition to the insistence that even the lowliest Kia be sold with every electrical “toy” as standard or it’s considered “stripped”,these supposedly sophisticated solutions to things that weren’t problems in the first place has turned even the most basic operation of an automobile into some sort of potential for roadway disaster.

    What was the solution for the Ford Explorer problems with tires above and beyond the nut behind the wheel slamming on the brakes after experiencing a blow out? Tire pressure monitors ? Even Car & Driver proved that under blow out conditions if one did not just slam on the brakes, a swerve or a roll over did not occur.

    If simple driver training failed in that instance isn’t adding some “off” button and system of dots and dashes to get a runaway car to stop just adding more complexity? Take some of that electronic sh*t off and start over. Not that difficult.A reset button for all of these newly electrified devices, please. Simplify.

    As of 1965 the consumer couldn’t get a bloody push button control for their automatic transmission for “safety reasons”. But push button starting and drive by wire carry no potential for problems ????

    Automotive electronics have finally jumped the shark. Check ALLPAR to see the wiring for a 60-70s Chrysler and a modern one. Pounds and yards of electronic devices and wires and all of it with the potential to go haywire.

    Sorry. Just go back and regroup. While not life threatening the fact that GM couldn’t get a reliable ignition switch into their IONs and Cobalts makes me really distrust the electronic steering [yes I know Toyota subsidiary supplied apparently] and drive by wire in my 05 ION enough to just say screw it and dump the car.

    • 0 avatar

      So, I take if you have some statistics to back up your theory that the electronics fail more often their mechanical predecessors? All the data I’ve seen indicates that the electronics are far more reliable than the previous mechanical systems.

      Can you link to the data you used to reach your conclusion?

    • 0 avatar

      Jmo, I think DweezilSFV’s point is that older (simpler) designs were easier for people in a panic to operate. In the case of stuck gas pedals 30 or 40 years ago you could turn the ignition key to the off position, shift out of gear, or step on the clutch. The new-fangled cars and trucks that seem to have electronics for the sake of electronics make these seemingly trivial solutions difficult–especially when in a panic.

      If I understand it correctly, there is a bit of irony here. Toyota’s complex ignition interface means people can’t simply turn the car off if there is a problem, but rather than simplifying the design, their solution is to add additional complexity. The conventional key system mounted in the dash (not hidden behind the wheel) really has a lot going for it: the physical nature of it means you can see and feel the settings, turning the key actually changes the position of the indicator, and the indicator and control are a single item. Go keyless if you want, but in this case there should be a turn knob on the dash that works just like a conventional key.

  • avatar

    Since the motoring public has sucha wide range of technical knowledge, common sense, and intelligence just go back to a hardwire ignition key.

    FYI, any industrial machine with even a fraction of the destructive power of a moving automobile would have to prominantly feature a large RED kill button near the driver.

    Perhaps OSHA should regulate cars rather than the current bozos.

  • avatar

    I hope they don’t mean to cut all power. They better be maintaining hotel power levels to run all the damn electric widgets like the steering and lighting, sensors and ABS/ESC.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Holy amp draw, batman!

      If you’re telling me that we now have to consider “hotel power” maintenance in the design of automotive control, then you’re also telling me that we’ve stepped away from a safe failsafe condition.

      Shut it down. Pull over to the side of the road. Stop.

      If we can’t get the above drilled into both our drivers and vehicles, then maybe the above guy is right, and we need to step back from all this fly by wire and gadgetry. How many more millions of lines of code do you want in your vehicle? My IE freezes up every day, what can I expect from the 2018 4-wheel steer hybrid CUV rockclimber sport, when it comes out? You wanna be a first run buyer of a car with a batch of THAT fresh code in there?

      These OEMs are gonna have to get together and build a “Windows” type control package or something. Take a step back, develop a base platform that does all the basics, the same way, for all of them, and go from there. I’m starting to fear the path this is going, with all the one-offs.

    • 0 avatar


      I would be entirely pleased if they did get rid of most of the electrical crap. What happens if you shut’er down and the EPS locks up? Why do some manufacturers have a limp home mode? I’m happy to have ABS/ESC but what in hell are all those hundreds of thousands of lines of code doing? Are you sure you got all bases covered? Until you are, maybe we need fewer bases. A modest proposal – car companies should test out features in cars issued to marketing execs and those cars should have full black box event logging. Maybe they’d think twice before asking for even more features.

  • avatar

    How about replacing the button with an on/off switch, shaped for example like a traditional starting key? People would be familiar with it, and it would still have the (supposed) benefits of electronic starting.

    • 0 avatar

      That is exactly how Toyota used to do it. Our 2005 Tundra has the same exact same functioning key and switch as our 1999 Camry. The only subtle difference is that the throttle-by-wire Tundra requires only a “bump” of the start position to tell the computer to run the engine start sequence.

  • avatar

    This all makes some sense, but why the 3 second delay in the first place? Does anyone press this button accidentally? Why not an nearly instant response? Then one push will do the job.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I think the reason is that you don’t want someone who is fumbling for the radio or heater controls while keeping their eyes on the road to accidentally touch the start/stop button and have the car shut down unexpectedly.

  • avatar

    Bulletin: This just in … Following up on concerns that Toyota’s start/stop button might be changed to make it too simple and quick to shut off the engine, the NHTSA has mandated that all automobiles with key-operated ignition switches must be retrofitted so that three keys must be turned to kill the engine.

  • avatar

    This just in – Toyota has changed tact and have switched the task force from creating an Emergency Stop Button to be installed on all Toyota vehicles and instead have decided to work on the Recall Hype Stop Button. Lead engineer of of the task force is quoted as saying “It was much easier to create one button which we would have to push just once rather than creating millions of these buttons and then installing them on all our cars – I got the idea watching an Staples commercial”.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    The solution is a plain ordinary keyed ignition switch … with a hard-wired circuit to the ignition and fuel-injection (not reliant on software). And for those insistent on keyless entry and starting … a plain rotary selector switch in the same place as the normal keyed switch and with exactly the same functions on the switch positions, just no key.

    It’s too late to retrofit cars that have already been built with the pushbutton start, but the software-reliant systems that use pushbuttons and no selector switches should be outlawed.

    If you want to start with a button rather than a turn of a key, then do it the way every motorcycle and race car does it. Still uses the normal keyed switch (or selector switch) for the ignition … the pushbutton just operates the starter motor. The auto manufacturers copied, but got it wrong.

  • avatar

    I recently rented an Altima, which has a start button. I found it to be nothing more than electronic fluff, annoying to the point that it would dissuade me from buying a car with that feature.

  • avatar

    Del Shannon, “Runaway”.

    Proof that real Rock & Roll was still alive and well during the 1959-64 “Dark Ages” of American Pop Music. Go back to that period and you’ll see during those years between the deaths of Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens/The Big Bopper and The Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan, the future of Rock music was very much up in the air.

    Kinda like the American car industry today.

    I’m not gloating over Toyota’s woes…but you’d think someone at Toyota, a company branded on reliability, would’ve remembered how well decontenting worked for Detroit before deciding to go down that road themselves.

    Now the American automakers have a window of opportunity to make their case to a buying public that otherwise may not have paid attention. If they don’t rise to the occasion, the domestic market will be Hyundai/Kia’s oyster.

    Recommended reading: “The United States Of Toyota” by Peter DeLorenzo, the Autoextremist.

  • avatar

    Edmunds mentioned the one long push vs. three-stab approach to start/stop ignition in their instructional video on what to do in a stuck throttle situation, (see beginning at 1:50):

    The Mazda6 they used for the video responds to both the three-second push and the three-stab approach. This seems to be the most intuitive approach, accounting for driver panic and programming the car to respond to two different types of input. I wonder why every manufacturer doesn’t use a standardized method like this one, unless there is some even more intuitive approach (i.e. any number of pushes over 1/any length of time over 1 second?).

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      But there IS a standard, intuitive solution to this: A normal keyed switch!

      Or a keyless rotary selector switch with the same positions as a normal keyed switch, if you prefer.

      Everyone who knows how to drive, knows how to use those.

    • 0 avatar

      My ’06 Miata had a rotary keyless ignition that worked exactly like a keyed setup.

      The column had a stubby key-like nub permanently affixed and once the RF fob was in range the stub would be allowed to turn. Regardless of the status of the key (like if it was outside of the car while the engine was running) the driver was able to switch it back to accessory or off, just like a regular key. You held it to the start position to crank the engine, you could turn it to accessory position for the radio, etc. I believe Honda used this setup in the original keyless RL as well.

      All the convenience of the pushbutton start with the safety of a keyed setup. Naturally, in their infinite wisdom, Mazda has moved to a pushbutton setup in the new 3 and 6.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    You know you’re in trouble when they start laughing at you!

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    The bad lube job on Brazilian VW’s reminds me of the owners that had fingers amputated when reclining the rear seats on their Fox…

    That was an interesting recall.

    Owner: “My finger was cut off when I lowered the seat on my Fox!”
    VW: “You were doing it wrong”

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Hopefully if they do this the software would recognize either a three second continuous button press OR three quick presses in succession as indicating that the driver wants the motor shut down.

  • avatar

    What about a couple of big EASY buttons on the dash like Staples uses?

  • avatar

    Not too convinced about the idea of turning the engine off with the key while driving down the road, turn it too far and on most cars this engages the steering lock… Not that anybody would, while panicing about their car accelerating off down the road.

    My wife’s ’97 Rover 600 (Honda Accord with a rover badge on – I’m in the UK) has an inbuilt way of sorting this, if you press the brake pedal the ECU automatically lifts off the power for you. Normally you wouldn’t even notice this, as who accelerates and presses the brake? (It actually tries to set the engine to 1500rpm, even with your foot hard down on the accelerator/gas pedal) Revs are then limited until you lift off the accelerator and then press it again. Yes I’ve tried it and yes it works…

    Nice simple system to use (pressing the brake to make the car slow down is about as intuitive as you get) No new contol to learn the location of, or how to use it. The only shortcoming is no heel-toe driving in a manual…

  • avatar

    I like the idea of a rotary knob on the dash or a permanent “key” in the traditional ignition switch area on the steering column/dash. My guess as to the reason why this redundant approach fell out of favor with Mazda and was rejected by Toyota is because of accountants pointing out the cost of having two controls when one cheaper button would suffice, and engineers bemoaning the fact that two controls for the same function would be a waste. Funny how many cars nowadays have redundant stereo, A/C, and cruise controls on the steering wheel, but a redundant emergency ignition cutoff switch is not an industry standard.

    I read a Babelfish translation of the German article above, it sounds like Toyota was warned that the three-second push was not intuitive and amounts to a safety hazard. Perhaps they are referring to a NHTSA report saying that some Lexus drivers who pushed the button failed to realize that the button required a three-second push to stop the engine. See: Since it would be a PR disaster for Toyota to tell its customers to RTFM (even for a loaner/rental!), I wonder how much it is going to cost them to repair the gas pedals, replace the floor mats, and either reprogram or install an entirely new ignition system on millions of cars. Aside from any other software reprogramming they decide to implement, of course.

  • avatar

    Let’s cut through the haze.

    How does the regular owner of a Lexus/Toyota with a STOP button turn of the engine at the end of a trip? My guess is they hold that button in for 3 seconds. Or do the engines idle all day and night because they don’t know how to turn their engines off? Why would they expect turning off an engine experiencing UA to be any different?

    All this is BS anyway, IMO. Get it through people’s heads — PUT the damn tranny in neutral if you think you are experiencing UA. Then a straightforward logic tree for programming becomes possible.

    Whether it takes 3 quick jabs at the button or a steady hold in to turn the engine off, there should be an international standard for cars with automatic trannies. Not this helter-skelter hodge-podge of wacko strategies, with companies heading off in every direction at once. And no matter what ultimate strategy is chosen, we can be sure that some utter dimwit(s) will get it wrong anyway.

    Never have I seen such knee jerk reaction, hate and confusion surround an issue like this. It seems to most rampant in the US. UA is not kitchen conversation here in Canada. The chances of UA happening to Mr. Joe Average in his Toyotamobile is minuscule. Maybe we should all be trained in underwater survival, because the chances of driving off the road and into a river or lake is higher than having your Toyota run away from you. I’ve seen accidents like this every damn year of my life (I live along a lake with a very winding shore road), but I have yet to see a Toyota explode into hyperspace, or met anyone else who has. But, I have seen a woman drive her Audi 5000 backwards at high speed into a store with no brakelights on, back in 1986. Perhaps that colors my perception of the problem.

    The world is full of dorks. And that’s why driving is dangerous.

  • avatar

    How does the regular owner of a Lexus/Toyota with a STOP button turn of the engine at the end of a trip? My guess is they hold that button in for 3 seconds.

    Nope, they just give the button a quick jab and everything shuts down (engine and ignition-switched electricals such as the radio and wipers). BMW, on the other hand, shuts only the engine off with a quick jab to the button; to shut everything down requires a three second press.

    It’s very inconsistent, and you’re correct in the need for a standard.

    I must say that I am disappointed with the number of condescending posts from keyless ignition haters who claim to have “driven” or “rented” vehicles with this feature; perhaps I expect more from the B&B. C’mon guys…please refrain from knocking it until you’ve owned (or leased) a vehicle so equipped and lived with it for a minimum of six months. You quickly see the advantages (see my post on the advantages in sub-freezing weather, above).

    Just for the record, I used to make similar condescending remarks regarding keyless entry systems (for locking and unlocking only) and cell phones, but now see the value in them. And just because you don’t see the value, don’t knock others for seeing a need for their particular situation…using that logic I could make an argument against the need for feminine hygiene products (“Well, I don’t use them, so they must be useless fluff.” – oops, no pun intended).

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