Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

A Different and Scary Camry Problem

I need help understanding what might be wrong with our car and what do about it. My wife drives a 2008 Camry Hybrid, which is under warranty. While driving on the highway she felt a jerk, several indicator lights came on (check hybrid systen, check engine, check vsc system) and the accelerator became unresponsive. Luckily, as the car began slowing uncontrollably, she was able to get to the shoulder without getting hit. Later, she restarted the car and drove slowly to the dealer. The car has been at the dealer for two weeks. They saw the indicator lights on but say the computer didn’t store any codes. They can’t figure out what is wrong with the car, and want us to take it back. She is scared that the issue has not been resolved and she might get hit next time this happens. Any guess as to what might be wrong with the car? Since the computer didn’t store codes, is it broken in addition to a problem accelerator? What can we expect to get from Toyota if this can’t be fixed?

Perhaps no codes are stored in computer because this is not an emissions issue. Most codes are part of the government mandated anti-emissions systems as per the “clean air act”. You have a problem, but not one that pollutes the air.

It seems the cars computer got confusing and mixed signals from various sensors and decided to go into “limp mode”. This allows you to drive slowly and safely to the side of the road. If it should happen again, and most modern cars do this (my '04 Ford has done it several times), she should put on her emergency “flashers” and move to the shoulder of the road.

Turning off the car and restarting it sometimes resets the computer and you can drive on. If it stays in limp mode you should be able to drive safely on the shoulder until you can either exit or find a safe place to stop and call for assistance.

This isn’t so much a “Toyota” problem as it is our modern cars are controlled more and more by computers and sensors feeding the computer information. Clitches are more like you laptop freezing up and you have to do a “restart” now and again to reboot and reset the system.

I think this kind of thing can happen with a hybrid if the computer calls on the gas motor to start, and for some reason it fails to start. Then the computer will detect a fault. Hybrids have very complicated and sophisticated software to control all the interactions between batteries, electric motors, gas motors, regenerative brakes, etc. They are something on the order of 20 times more complicated as far as computing software than conventional gas motors.

Thanks Uncle Turbo. This was worse than limping, however. The engine (and hybrid motor for that matter) stopped working entirely. She stepped on the accelerator and nothing happened. The car just slowed down and it was all she could do to get to the shoulder before it stopped altogether without getting rear-ended. I wouldn’t be as concerned if the acelerator was still responding somewhat, even limping.

This could be something as mundane as a little water in the gas momentarily stalled the engine.

Consumers need to realize that when they opt to buy a highly complex hybrid, computerized vehicle, they leave themselves open to highly complex and difficult to repair problems.

Mechanics can not repair problems when they can not determine what is wrong. Cars are not like DVD players. You can’t just take them back and say “This one is broke, I want another one”.

You might as well go and pick up your car, because, well, it’s your car…

"Consumers need to realize that when they opt to buy a highly complex hybrid, computerized vehicle, they leave themselves open to highly complex and difficult to repair problems. "

Well said…

A family member has a 1st gen Prius. It spent almost 6 weeks straight in the shop last year because the dealership could not diagnose its electrical problems.

I don’t understand your focus on the accelerator. It sounds like the car just stalled, which doesn’t say anything about the accelerator. Am I missing something here?

Unfortunately, you’re at the mercy of the Toyota dealer. These cars are very complex, as you know, and when something goes wrong with them it may not be easy to diagnose.

I don’t think the problem is linked to the accelerator problems reported by others. Something made the engine stall. Could be fuel, could be electrical.

Does the car run and drive normally now? Whatever happened may have self=corrected when she restarted the car. It may happen again and it may not. I don’t think there’s any way to know.

Be glad the car is still under warranty. Best of luck with this.

Oh, And One More Thing, MD . . . Make Sure Your “Complaints” And The Dealer’s “Solution / Lack Of Solution” Are Clearly Documented On Your Copy Of Any Repair Orders.

Don’t leave the dealer without paper work each time and make sure it clearly states what actually transpired. That way you’ll have a paper trail if this doesn’t resolve in an efficient and amicable manner. Meanwhile check your state’s “lemon laws” so that you can get up to speed on your rights.

This type of problem is very difficult for technicians to locate if the car is functioning normally and no fault codes have been stored. I hope they gave you a new car to use during that two week period.

If this was going on with my wife’s car and she was afraid to drive it, I’d take it back on the second episode (should this happen again) and demand a “newer” (not a heap) Hybrid Camry loaner car to use until they get it fixed, not until they can’t figure anything out, but until it’s fixed.


P.S. It’s not just that I’m distrustful, but I have bad luck most of the time. I would be keeping my own little log on who I talked to, what was said, and the dates and times. If push comes to shove, you’ll have an ace in the hole.

P.P.S. Can you swap cars with your wife for a while until the car proves itself and her fear subsides a bit ?

P.P.P.S. Have you asked to speak to a Toyota Zone Representative ? Often a meeting can be arranged by your dealer. I’d tell them what you told us. I’d call Toyota Corp, also. Ask if they think maybe a local T.V. station would like to do a story on one more Toyota defect.

The thing of it is, how was this any more scary than any car just quitting running, like has happened to all of us at one time or another, aside from it being a Toyota in the midst of this Toyota nightmare?

And it may be an enormously complicated system, but pretty much everyone has taken a car to a mechanic and the mechanic has scratched their head at the problem for a while. So besides the car being a hybrid and a Toyota, how is this any different than any car having an intermittent problem that initially stymies diagnosis? Is she just afraid mostly because of all the bad press Toyota’s had lately?

You may need to drive the car until the problem happens again to diagnose it—this would be the same if you had a 60’ Chevy that was acting up instead of your Prius.

Sounds like an engine stall in a non hybrid car. The same thing would occur with all the lights turning on.

The problem with issues like this if intermitent they are very difficult to diagnose until whatever is the issue actually breaks 100%.

I appreciate your response and will try to answer your question, but it looks like we’re starting with different assumptions. I do not expect a two-year-old Camry with no problems to suddenly quit on the highway, leaving the driver’s safety up to their emergency driving skills. You, and others here I’ll admit, seem to think this is part of the car owning and driving experience. News to me; nothing like it has happened before with our Hondas and a Mercury, despite holding on to them for over a decade (or can I recall anything similar happening to a family member or friend). I don’t buy that owners must expect their cars to suddenly become unresponsive at highway speeds. That is no less serious to me than sudden acceleration, which has grabbed the nation’s attention. Okay, so there is my point of view. That aside and to answer your question, what makes this unacceptable to us is that no-one can tell us why this happened or that it won’t suddenly happen again. No one at the dealer has suggested it stalled, or that stalling should be expected from time to time. Further, they agree that it was not a fail-safe reaction because then the accelerator would have remained somewhat responsive. Considering our congested roads, I’m not willing to risk her safety in order to help diagose what shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I don’t think anyone would tell you not to be concerned about it. It is a dangerous thing. But it does happen - to just about any kind of car. And it often is a very difficult thing to diagnose.

I think that people were mostly saying that you look like you’re headed in with a whole set of assumptions that you probably shouldn’t. You framed the problem as a Toyota accelerator problem. Meanwhile it makes more sense to just say “my car suddenly stalled while driving on the highway.” I promise you that it happens and it happens to many different kinds of cars.

I’m not trying to say that it doesn’t suck, and you would expect a two year-old car to have a problem like this less than, say a 15 year-old car. But the world is inherently an imperfect place, and s#^t happens. I don’t consider the engine quitting on the highway to be a great cause of panic, just a major inconvenience. I have to admit I’d be a lot more worried if it quit while driving through certain parts of town than on the freeway.

I have no idea how Toyota would handle this—they may be more generous due to the latest problems with their cars (and their image), or they may be so overwhelmed that you might have to wait a long time for resolution. I’d give the dealer a chance to diagnose and fix the problem. (which may include someone having to drive it until the problem can be reproduced) I’d check with your state’s lemon laws to see if there’s any recourse there if the dealer can’t fix it in a reasonable amount of tries. But with a two year-old car, you may have exceeded the limits of the law.

The sad thing is, there’s no guarantee that if you get ANY car, new or old, that this won’t happen. You could trade one problem for another. At least that seems to be how my luck runs :slight_smile:

Good luck with it.

It sounds to me like the car shut down. An intermittent ignition switch or maybe a bad relay would cause this sort of problem on a normal car. That would not set any kind of code in the computer and would result in a bunch of dash lights coming on and the car just coasting to a stop.

I am in the middle of this right now (car is at the dealer as I write). For me, the problem was the gas engine quit at a stoplight after much kicking and sputtering during braking. The electric motor ran though and I was able to drive a distance on the electric alone. Same signals as mdcartalkfan - Check Hybrid System, then Check Engine, then Check VSC. Once there was no juice in the battery, I had to have it towed to the dealer. They told me it was diesel in the gas, which is totally baffling for a whole different set of reasons. $300 later I drove away, refilled with premium to wash out the bad mojo, and drove all weekend (maybe 150-200 miles) All fine. Today, it happened again. Not so severe, but this time they are saying no codes - last time they reported misfire codes on all cylinders.