Friday, February 26, 2010

More fishy Toyota horror stories

It seems the Toyota hysteria has spread to Australia:

A former recreational rally car driver says she experienced sudden unintended acceleration on four occasions while driving her 2008 Toyota Corolla Ascent in north Queensland.

Kuranda resident Mary Von Keyserlingk, 72, has come forward as the US congress investigates Toyota over safety defects linked to as many as 30 deaths.

Ms Von Keyserlingk said her latest scare was a "horror show", with her car speeding to more than 160 kilometres per hour.

"All of a sudden the noise was nearly deafening," she said.

"The heart was pounding and I thought, 'if this goes on any longer I'm going to die [from] a heart attack if nothing else'."

Wow. Scary. And this is a rally car driver. She must know what she's doing, right?

Ms Von Keyserlingk said she decided to turn the car off but she then lost control of the steering wheel.

Hm, odd, why would an experienced driver turn off the car instead of shifting into neutral?

"[Because] power-steering operates on computers ...

Um, no. The reason you lose your power steering when you turn the car off is not because the steering depends on computers, but because it depends on hydraulic pressure supplied by a pump that is driven by the engine. No power from the engine, no pressure, and hence no power steering. It's called power steering for a reason.

But here's the real kicker:

A spritely septuagenarian, Ms Von Keyserlingk still works full time and says she has always driven a manual car.

This car had a manual transmission! (Automatic transmissions are much less common outside the U.S. than in.) There is absolutely no way that a car with a manual transmission can accelerate out of control without either operator error or a serious mechanical failure that would show up on subsequent inspection. This car has a clutch and a manual linkage between the shift lever and the gearbox. You can physically disengage the engine from the drive train by either engaging the clutch or shifting the car into neutral. Now, it is possible for clutch linkages to fail (I've actually had it happen to me). It is even theoretically possible for a manual transmission linkage to fail, though I've never heard of such a thing happening. But it is not possible for both of these things to fail at the exact same time that you have a runaway throttle and leave absolutely no evidence behind. If a mechanical linkage breaks, it stays broken until you fix it.

[UPDATE:] The same article has this story:

Mudgeeraba resident Giulia Greenall says she had a similar experience in her 2007 automatic Toyota Corolla Ascent on three occasions.

On the third and worst occasion she says she was merging with traffic when "the car just started accelerating like mad".

Ms Greenall says tapping the brake pedal or accelerator failed to bring the vehicle under control, although it had worked on previous occasions.

"You could feel underneath your foot that the accelerator could move up and down, but when it got to a certain point there was this hell of a loud vibrating noise coming out of it and you had no control over that," she said.

"It was droning out this noise and vibration, you could feel it under foot. I thought, 'oh we're in trouble' so I pumped the brakes."

Ms Greenall says she travelled for up to 400 metres under full brake and full hand brake before she turned the car off and nursed it to the side of the road.

She estimates she was doing 80 kilometres an hour under full brake.

Again, this begs credulity. This is not a Camry, this is a Corolla. It has a 130 horsepower engine. It take more than nine seconds to get from zero to sixty under full throttle with the brakes off. This car can barely sustain 80 kph (50MPH) going uphill, let alone with the brakes on.


It's important to note that I'm not saying that there are no problems with Toyota cars. There may well be, I don't know. What I am saying is that many of the stories that are coming out sound fishy, and at least a few of them are flat-out physically impossible. Even that is not so disturbing -- people make shit up all the time. What bothers me is that all of this testimony is apparently being accepted uncritically without even the most basic reality checks being applied.

(Speaking of basic reality checks, think about this: Greenhall reports traveling for "up to 400 meters" before turning the car off. Doesn't that sound a little odd? 400 meters is awfully precise. And why hedge with "up to" instead of "about"? For that matter, why a distance? It seems to me that the natural way to recount an incident like that is in terms of time: "I was out of control for a minute or so." Distances are very hard to estimate even under non-stressful circumstances. Again, I do not doubt that something out of the ordinary happened, but "up to 400 meters" has all the earmarks of a concocted embellishment.)


Danston said...

Thanks for these ongoing sanity checks on the unfolding Toyota unintended acceleration stuff. I find it really interesting and I'm glad that someone is thinking about this stuff critically.

JAVA said...

I read an interesting story the other day along these lines. While it was a '96 model - well before the current outbreak of problems - it certainly might have had mechanical defects. It just seems that there's an air of mechanical hypochondria lingering around some of these stories. It wouldn't be the first time...