Toyota Unintended Acceleration Gremlins Running Amok – In The Media And At Illegal Speeds

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
toyota unintended acceleration gremlins running amok in the media and at illegal

The media and “celebrities” are making hay over the Toyota recall issue, desperate to find evidence of electronic and software gremlins. We’re adamant in stating that Toyota needs to change their software to give braking priority over a stuck pedal, and to replace the pedals, of course. And there may well be genuine software or electronic glitches out there, but we’d like to see solid evidence of them. Instead, we’re stuck listening to Steve Wozniak’s experience with a faulty cruise control on his Prius. It’s being spun as an example of Toyota’s electronics gremlins, creating confusion and scare-mongering. As if there wasn’t enough of that already.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has described a repeatable situation that is clearly a flaw in his cruise control, and it only happens at super-legal speeds (from

My 2010 Prius has a package that includes parallel parking assist and cruise control distance limiter. In some fictional state (let’s say ‘private property’) I tap my cruise control speed lever up and the car speed increases from 80 to 81.I tap this leve again and again, up to 83 mph. Then I tap it again and the car takes off without speed limiting. Tapping this lever down has no effect. The car is shortly up to maybe 97 mph. I repeated this many times.

One doesn’t think of things like putting the car in neutral instantly.

The natural braking action does disable this effect.

Wozniak has made this very clear: this only happens (repeatedly) above 83 mph. And a tap on the brakes releases the speed control, exactly as it should. This story is getting repeated play on Jalopnik, and other sites. Interestingly, Jalop modified their original from yesterday story to “sanitize” it, removing any reference to the illegal speed, as well as removing the link to his original comments (above) that describes the situation. I guess they though that might not go down so well. Instead, it’s being shown as evidence of Toyota’s callous disregard of their customer’s safety, because Toyota won’t drop everything and give the Great Woz a personal response to his complaint.

Well, the cruise control on my ’77 Dodge Chinook camper does the same thing, above 63 mph. Perhaps it’s trying to tell me something, because the one time I drove consistently faster than that I cracked an exhaust manifold. I’m digressing, but the point is this: Steve Wozniak’s problem is not a dangerous phantom or gremlin, but a consistent and repeatable flaw in his cruise control. And since cruise control is neither necessary and can be disabled, and the flaw happens only above 83 mph, perhaps Toyota legitimately has more pressing problems on its hands and feet.

Update : Jalopnik is reporting that thanks to its extensive coverage, Toyota will be taking Wozniak’s Prius for a week’s of testing. It helps to be a celebrity and be heard.

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  • Skor Skor on Feb 03, 2010

    Everyone thinks that they could handle unexpected acceleration without breaking a sweat, so did I.....until it happened. I had the cruise set on a Caddy with the 4.9 while driving up the NY Thruway. Approaching my exit, I slid over to the exit lane, tapped the brake to cancel the cruise, and she kept going full speed ahead! I was half asleep after spending over an hour cruising in that floaty boat, but now I was wide awake. My first reaction was to stand on the brake. The brake scrubbed about half the speed then I dropped it into neutral. With the engine screaming I shut it off and coasted to the shoulder -- smoke coming from the front brakes. Turned out to be a bad idle speed control motor. I shudder to think what could have happened if some little old in the early stages of senility had been behind the wheel.

    • Stuart Stuart on Feb 03, 2010

      Well, I hadn't really thought about unexpected acceleration when it happened to me in '78 or '79 (I would have been 18 or 19 years old). 'Twas Dad's '73 Ambassador wagon, with a 360. Truthfully, it wasn't full-throttle acceleration; I'd guess about 2/3rds (enough to open the secondaries). Happened on Hamilton Avenue, a flat, four-lane suburban boulevard (limit 35 MPH). When the car got over 50MPH, I tried lifting the accelerator pedal with my foot (no effect). Then I had the bright idea to disengage the transmission. About one-half second later, I had the brighter idea of turning the key to OFF. Note that the '70s era GM column had a lock-out that precluded removing the key or locking the wheel unless the lever was in Park, but you could turn the ignition OFF. I did. Anyways, I coasted to the side, raised the hood, and immediately noticed the cruise-control bellows had come asunder. This was a ribbed rubber tube about four inches in diameter and length; when vacuum was applied, it would shrink in length, pulling a chain that opened the throttle. Inside the bellows was a large-but-soft spring. When the bellows popped off its moorings, the spring dragged the chain end cockeyed, far past the usual travel, pulling the throttle open. I stuff the spring back inside, reinstalled the bellows, and it never gave us trouble again. I commuted to college in that car for a time; the trip took me over the Santa Cruz mountains. I routinely used "Mexican overdrive" on the downhill part (approx 8 miles) of the trip to save gas. Fun times.

  • Pete darnell Pete darnell on Feb 03, 2010

    This happened to me on rt 84 in CT a few years back. I was driving a '98 4 cyl dodge Caravan w/120K miles. Fortunately it was on an uphill and the car was so under powered that it didn't get much past 85 mph. What unstuck it was to stomp the gas pedal a few times to loosen up the throttle mechanism. I blasted the cable and return spring mechanism with some lithium grease and it never happened again (well, at least not for the remaining 10K miles I got out of it before the engine blew).

  • Old Scold As a Marylander, I got those plates assigned to me when I purchased my car in 2016, 4 years after the so-called anniversary. I figured they were using up NOS, and it never occurred to me to check out the URL. I still don't care. It's a stupid issue, but I have my tag number memorized should I need it.
  • Hpycamper I drive a car with automatic braking and have nothing good to say about it. It has activated going around corners on mountain roads when the hillside is close to the road, when lawn sprinklers turned on and sprayed the car, and driving past cars on the shoulder that are making right turns. Luckily these phantom brake activations have not caused a wreck. The systems are just too dumb.
  • SCE to AUX How long until that $90k yields a profit for my grandchildren?
  • Ajla I do wonder what the legacy of the Alpha Camaro will be. It was higher performing than the Zeta but lacks the pop culture imprinting of that gen or the earlier F-body. And somehow it managed to be less comfortable than the Zeta. I guess it depends if this is really the last traditional Camaro.
  • SCE to AUX I'd admire it at the car cruise, but $20k gets you halfway to a new truck.