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New Prius "sudden acceleration" claims beginning to look fishy

A week and a half ago, in the wake of the publicity surrounding the ongoing government investigation into numerous consumer claims involving stuck accelerators on Toyota vehicles, a man placed a frantic call to 911 from a California freeway claiming that the accelerator on his 2008 Toyota Prius was stuck. James Sikes claimed that he "stood on the brakes" but the car continued to gather speed until it reached 94 mph. After "several attempts" to turn the motor off Sikes was finally successful, and a CHP officer used his own car to slow Sikes' Prius to a full stop.

But shortly after his sensational claims hit the airwaves, information about James Sikes' checkered past began to emerge:

Now comes Sikes' former business partner, William Sweet, who, according to Jalopnik, "says he went into business with Sikes, together opening up a paralegal services company called AAA California Aid in 1997. Sweet operated the main office and Sikes ran one in Los Banos, California. Sweet alleges numerous incidents of fraud and theft involving Sikes led him to dissolve their partnership, including an incident in which Sikes sent an employee to break into the main office to steal payment records."

Sweet told Jalopnik's Matt Hardigree that "As soon as I heard the words 'Jim Sikes,' I immediately woke up out of a dead sleep and thought, 'uh oh, what the hell is this guy up to now?' He's trying to do a scam, and get in on that lawsuit for the Toyota thing, that's immediately what i thought."

Earlier this week, technicians from the NHTSA and Toyota reported that after thoroughly examining Sikes' car they could find no forensic evidence that the brakes and gas pedal were deployed simultaneously:

Toyota has said all Priuses are equipped with a computer system that cuts power to the wheels if the brake and gas pedals are depressed at the same time, as Sikes was doing.

"It's tough for us to say if we're skeptical. I'm mystified in how it could happen with the brake override system," Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, said Thursday.

A Toyota official who was at the inspection explained that an electric motor would "completely seize" if a system to shut off the gas when the brake is pressed fails, and there was no evidence to support that happened, according to the memo.

"In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time," according to the report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

A day after the Sikes incident in California, another Prius driver blamed a vehicle crash on a stuck accelerator. A Harrison, NY resident claimed that as she was easing out of her driveway the accelerator on her 2005 Prius suddenly jammed. The brakes on the vehicle also failed, causing her to accelerate out of control and crash into a stone wall. But after technicians from the NHTSA and Toyota examined the car, they firmly concluded that "the car's event data recorder 'indicated there was no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open.'"

As new "unintended acceleration" reports make news headlines, we continually find out more about the impressive number of safety features that Toyota included in the mechanical and computer systems of the Prius. Of course gremlins can pop up in mechanical systems at any time, but these latest reports of unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles seem far more likely to have involved errors in human judgment rather than mechanical failure.

...

If you need a good laugh, someone decided to explore what would happen if Toyota's hybrid technology was added to an electric lawn mower:


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Comments (18)

A scam from the start. ... (Below threshold)
MjM:

A scam from the start.

To wit:

Toyota Camry:
3483lbs, 4-wheel Power disk brakes, [email protected]

Toyota Prius:
3042lbs, 4-wheel Power disk brakes, [email protected]


"With the Camry's throttle pinned while going 70 mph, the brakes easily overcame all 268 horsepower straining against them and stopped the car in 190 feet -- that's a foot shorter than the performance of a Ford Taurus without any gas-pedal problem and just 16 feet longer than with the Camry's throttle closed. From 100 mph, the stopping-distance differential was 88 feet--noticeable to be sure, but the car still slowed enthusiastically enough to impart a feeling of confidence. We also tried one go-for-broke run at 120 mph, and, even then, the car quickly decelerated to about 10 mph before the brakes got excessively hot and the car refused to decelerate any further. So even in the most extreme case, it should be possible to get a car's speed down to a point where a resulting accident should be a low-speed and relatively minor event. - CarAndDriver, Dec 2009 - http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q4/how_to_deal_with_unintended_acceleration-tech_dept

If the brakes on the Camry can overcome a "stuck pedal", it's 268hp V6, and 3483lbs at 100mph, there is no question the the brakes on the Prius could overcome 98 measly hp and 3042lbs at 80mph.

Scam artists that owe Toyot... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

Scam artists that owe Toyota for their stupid little fart sniffing cars.

This Sikes needs to go to jail.

"errors in human judgmen... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"errors in human judgment"

Is that a polite way to say "liars and scammers"?

I knew it was a case of liars and scammers immediately when I first heard these stories. Anyone who would call 9-11 rather than simply put their transmissions in neutral if what Sikes falsely claims to have happened actually happened, is too stupid to drive.

A Toyota official ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
A Toyota official who was at the inspection explained that an electric motor would "completely seize" if a system to shut off the gas when the brake is pressed fails, and there was no evidence to support that happened, according to the memo.

"In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible. . .

This is another example of a "Toyota official" making suspicious technical claims. First, how does an electric motor "completely seize" to the point that this official believes the car couldn't even be pushed around the shop? What, does the Prius come with an explosive charge the computer sets off to destroy the motor's bearings or do they dump all the battery power into it at once to increase the RPMs to the point where the motor flies apart? Even if the electric motor seized, the car could still be pushed around the shop by putting the transmission in neutral. Toyota is not helping its case when "Toyota official" make incorrect technical claims.

As for the brakes stopping a runaway car, yes, the brakes are far more powerful, but only if they are working. All of the cars in question have ABS, which is a system that allows computer override of the break input from the drive in order to prevent the wheels from locking. This is done by detecting wheel rotation and using a valve in the hydraulic brake system to interrupt pressure to the disk brakes when the computer thinks the wheel is not turning. The emergency brake, while puny in comparison to the normal brakes, is not subject to ABS override, and thus, this is why people are told to apply the emergency brake in such situations. Electronic stability control uses the same inputs and can even apply the brakes and boost power steering assist if the car is equipped with electronic power steering.

The point is that tests done by Car and Drive and number of others to simulate unintended acceleration by pressing both the brakes and the throttle at the same time may not be accurate. They should try these tests again but with a switch installed that can manually activate the ABS interrupter valve. My guess is that the results will be much different and much scarier.

Don't get me wrong, the specifics of the incident with Jim Sikes seem suspicious, but not for any of the reasons given in Michael's piece. The black box showed that Sikes repeatedly alternated between the breaks and throttle over 250 times (beyond the limit of the black box to record), which is something you would do to simulate a runaway car. After you burn out the brakes this way you can stand on them and make it look like you are really trying to stop, something the cop reported. Even more suspicious is that Sikes never put the car in neutral even though the 911 operator told him to do so many times. Sikes always had an excuse, but the shifter is right on the dash in a Prius only 4 inches from the steering wheel.

We have people who get on buses AFTER it has been in an accident in hopes of collecting a bunch of money. Sikes seems to be applying the same principle but wasn't expecting the close scrutiny he's getting.

I had a Datsun 510 that had... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

I had a Datsun 510 that had a sticky throttle plate mechanism, but turning off the switch always worked. A can of carb cleaner took care of the gunk, and the problem went away.

I've had 'unintended accellerations' in Buicks, Fiats, Renaults, Toyotas (a '78 Corolla) Saturn and Honda - when my oversized clomper got in the wrong place and I pressed down.

If there were an actual systemic problem, I'd think there'd be a lot more accidents and they'd be spread across the entire spectrum of drivers - but it's apparently not.

Theodore H. Frank: I am not afraid of my Toyota Prius | Washington Examiner

The Los Angeles Times recently did a story detailing all of the NHTSA reports of Toyota "sudden acceleration" fatalities, and, though the Times did not mention it, the ages of the drivers involved were striking.

In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89--and I'm leaving out the son whose age wasn't identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.

These "electronic defects" apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them. (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).
It's easy to blame your own fumble-footed 'accidental accellerations' on the machine - but it's really looking like the hardware's not to blame at this point.

But then again, Toyota's such a convenient scapegoat. And the government's got to boost GM's numbers SOMEHOW...

Found this site online. Hi... (Below threshold)

Found this site online. Hilarious:

Toyota: Brakes/Steering Sold Separately

Opps...forgot link:<... (Below threshold)
JoeCarr:
MacLorry,The Toyot... (Below threshold)

MacLorry,

The Toyota news release that I linked in my piece ("the impressive number of safety features") outlines several systems that are designed to prevent runaway acceleration via a stuck accelerator and/or brake failure. These include regenerative braking (the computer throws the main electric motor into reverse in order to absorb energy from the drive train), an electronic throttle control that automatically reduces power to the gasoline engine if the brakes and gas pedal are pushed simultaneously, and an effective hydraulic braking system designed to override the drive train even under full power.

The driver can also push the start button for one to three seconds (depending on the model of car) to kill the ignition system, as well as shifting the car into neutral, which completely disengages the drive train.

The Toyota spokesperson who made the "completely seize" comment was probably referring to the regenerative braking system, which would likely have damaged the electric motor if the car was indeed traveling at 94 MPH.

I think the bottom line here is that for Sikes' claim to be entirely truthful, the ignition switch, throttle control, regenerative braking system, and hydraulic braking system would all had to have failed simultaneously. The chances of that happening are very slim at best.

P.Bunyan - I doubt that eit... (Below threshold)

P.Bunyan - I doubt that either Sikes or the woman from New York knew that their cars had "event data recorders" attached to their crash safety systems. Since all of the news reports about the subsequent crash investigations mentioned the data recorders, I'm predicting that we won't see many more sensational stuck accelerator claims involving Toyotas.

I'll probably get in troubl... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

I'll probably get in trouble, but I have sympathy for Toyota (I own two). Anyone remember Audi? What happened with their "problem"?

Everyone's had a computer 'crash' for no apparent reason (okay MAC users, shut up!). COULD such an event occur? Yeah, never say NEVER. But how do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

When you have 70-80 year olds complaining, is their complaint any "different" from the same complaint coming from at 40-50 year old? More valid? Less valid?

Then you have the engineer who has to examine the vehicle and try to "duplicate" the incident but can't. How do you address a problem that you can't recreate so that you can examine the data? (Hey, lets talk about Global Warming!).

Had to laugh at the comment of Sikes attorney the other day. He blamed it on "ghosts". Maybe Toyota just needs an exorcist!

Im tellin you all Siezer Ob... (Below threshold)
914:

Im tellin you all Siezer Obustus has his hands in this somehow.

MacGood post. I also... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

Mac
Good post. I also would add that just because a computer says something doesn't mean it is so. I troubleshoot computers and different software on a daily bases. Just because it gives you a specific error, record a certain event or lack thereof in a log, doesn't mean it is accurate or even if it is in the neighborhood. Often it is but many times not.

When you troubleshoot something, you look at how a problem can happen not if it is working now or under control situation. Sometime it is the end-user but sometimes it is when certain things line up just right. Often it is something sometimes unrelated that you would never think would cause the problem that does.

Toyota Official explanations are very lacking and full of holes. Sikes may or may not be lying but Toyota is no doubt deceiving people and it is working on some.

Also, Sike's supposed uncon... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Also, Sike's supposed uncontrollable accellerator magically fixed itself when the police car showed up and got in front of him - they never bumped.

Must have been some magic Cop Ray that caused the car to start acting right, eh?

Re "Then you have the engin... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

Re "Then you have the engineer who has to examine the vehicle and try to "duplicate" the incident but can't"

He is either an incompetent engineer or he is covering up for his company. If he had came out and said that these many of things would have had to happen to replicate the incident, he would at least have some legitimacy but saying he can't do it is unbelievable. There is always a possibility of strange situation that one typically wouldn't think of but those are excusable to not think of, but saying there is no way, please.

Michael,I'm not de... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Michael,

I'm not defending Sikes for the reasons I stated in post #4. What I'm pointing out and what Wayne in post #12 has observed is that complex computer controlled systems may have single point of failure. In the Prius the throttle and regenerative brakes are under control of the computer. Even the hydraulic brakes can be overridden by the computer through the ABS system. The start/stop button is just another input to the computer. In fact, in the Prius even the shift lever is just an input to the computer. Maybe there are many computers running these systems, but are they truly independent or can a bug in one computer cascade into other systems?

Software is the most complex process produced by humankind and it's a safe bet that every complex system has bugs. Last fall I purchased a new Intel quad core computer running Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. When I open a certain website in IE-8 it locks up the entire system to the point where I cannot shut down IE-8, open the Start menu or even open the Task Manager. This system has four processing cores so you would think at least one would be available for other tasks, but there's obviously a single point of failure in Microsoft's premiere operating system. After a billion dollars of development all it takes is one badly behaving website to trigger such a flaw. To be fair, Win 7 comes out of lock up mode on its own when some internal watchdog triggers. Question is, how long do you have to live if your Prius goes to full acceleration and the only non-computer actuated control is the emergency brake?

I see an opportunity here for someone to market a directly wired engine kill switch such as required on all race cars. My motorcycle has such a kill switch, so why not my car?

Mac,"...complex co... (Below threshold)

Mac,

"...complex computer controlled systems may have single point of failure."

Point taken. It certainly is possible (though IMHO still not highly probable) that a single CPU error could wipe out the hydraulic and regenerative braking, engine kill switch, and gasoline engine throttle control, since they all appear to be controlled by a single central computer system.

Still, one would think that Toyota's engineers would have anticipated such a problem and attempted to work out a solution for it. On the other hand, the Large Hadron Collider, designed and built by the world's smartest physicists and engineers, has never worked properly due to a myriad of design flaws. So one never truly knows about these things.

Wow, maybe I missed it, but... (Below threshold)
Jake:

Wow, maybe I missed it, but apparently this post failed the editorial process: There's not a single reference blaming Obama or Pelosi for these potential frauds.

Good for you guys.

Toyota and others knew they... (Below threshold)

Toyota and others knew they were having issues and attempted to hide it. All Car Companies should have came forward with a full disclosures of what car were dangerous. Instead of waiting for a huge media blitz and tons of public pressure. I never seen so many car companies GM - NISSAN - TOYOTA - HYUNDAI having recalls all at the same time. I had no idea my car was affected until I looked on http://www.carpedalrecall.com and found I had a bad Anti Lock control unit on my 2008 Pontiac G8 , my co workers Ford Truck had a recall also. So be careful




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