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Toyota's stuck accelerator problem & emergency solution

I’m wondering if it would work to turn the keys off while the car is in drive if the accelerator ever got stuck. On NPR, I heard a woman interviewed about her Toyota’s accelerator getting stuck. She couldn’t get the car out of drive and she melted the brakes trying to get the car to stop. Could she have just turned the keys to the off position to cut the power to the engine?

Turning off the key is the absolute last resort. I know of no car that can’t be shifted into neutral. Try it out, practice it, so if a problem comes up you’ll know what to do.

If she couldn’t get the car out of drive and into neutral, which is the best and easiest thing to do, what makes you think she could turn the key off ? Everyone should practice at low speed whether they own a Toyota or not. Hypermilers have the advantage here.

“Could she have just turned the keys to the off position to cut the power to the engine?”

Sure she could. However, shutting down the engine also means the loss of power assist for the steering and the loss of power assist for the brakes.

Yes, a car can be steered without power assist, but it can be difficult–especially for a woman who does not have a lot of upper-body strength.

Yes, there is some reserve vacuum left in the power brake booster–most likely enough for one or two hard presses on the brake pedal. After the reserve vacuum is gone, it will feel like you are attempting to put your foot through a brick wall.

So–yes, she could have done what you suggest, but with the inherent problems that would result from shutting down the engine, I have to ask:
Is it wise to introduce two possible new emergency situations into the mix while someone is in panic mode?

As was said, all cars can be shifted into neutral while the car is traveling at high speed. If someone claimed that they could not do it, that is almost surely an effect of them entering panic mode and forgetting to press the shift interlock button in order to move the lever or perhaps making some other kind of mistake.

If you are ever in that situation, do the following:

Press the brake pedal very firmly
Throw the shift lever into neutral
Steer to the shoulder of the road
When you have come to a complete halt, shut down the engine and shift the transmission to “Park”

That is what I would do if I was in the right lane or could get to the right lane to access the shoulder if on a freeway using remaining brake system vacuum carefully.

If in a center lane where there are 3 or more lanes, putting the trans in neutral provides the option of moving the gear selector back to Drive to help with moving to where you want to be in heavy traffic, either the right or left breakdown lane. There is no way of predicting where a stuck Toyota accelerator may happen so a “one fits all” is reasonable to expect from Toyota.

A potential problem with turning the ignition off is that someone in a panic will revert to an ingrained habit and will turn the key to the locking position and then pull the key out, locking the steering. If it can happen, it will! Someone, somewhere will do it wrong. Not you, not me but someone.

Can you be more specific about which NPR show this interview was on? They keep links to these stories on their web site and I’d like to try to find it and listen to it.

I curious why should could not get it out of gear.

The BRAKES in most cars can quickly overpower the engine…You can’t be timid about it, get on 'em HARD! The car WILL stop…THEN fiddle around with the keys…

What happens after the steering wheel locks? I wouldn’t do it until you stop the car.

Yes, a car can be steered without power assist, but it can be difficult–especially for a woman who does not have a lot of upper-body strength.

Wow, how sexist is that! And I’m saying that as a dude. For the past 6 months that I was applying to become a Naval Officer, I was PTed with 2 other female recruits; I’ve seen them both curling a 30# dumbbell like a piece of paper. Lack of power brake asisst? We’ve been running 5 miles up and down hills around our neighborhood.

Chunky Azian

You are reading something into my statement that is not there.

I did not say that ALL women lack upper-body strength.
I said that steering a car without power assist can be difficult for a woman who does not have a lot of upper-body strength. Obviously it would be less problematic for a woman who is gifted with a lot of upper-body strength.

Instead, I could have said “for anyone who does not have a lot of upper-body strength”, but chose to use women for an example because, given their smaller frames, paucity of testosterone, and frequent lack of heavy lifting, it is more typical for women to have less upper-body strength than men. There are exceptions to every rule, of course.

Please don’t perceive things in my writing that are not there.

I did some looking on the NPR site and found the interview I think the OP was talking about. Here is a link:

The woman said she could not get it in to neutral, but did not say why and no one questioned her for details. She also said she “believes” it only stopped because the brakes melted together. I’m guessing the brakes did stop the car, and I’m sure they were hot, but her theory about them melting together seems a bit far fetched. Of course, asking her questions would not have provided the sensationalism the producer wanted for this piece.

I agree that shifting to neutral and not turning the engine off is the correct thing to do, however…
"What happens after the steering wheel locks? I wouldn’t do it until you stop the car."
is nonsense. You can’t turn the key to the lock position unless the transmission is in park, which it wouldn’t be in this case.

We are told: "Simply put the car into neutral then turn the engine off."
MAY NOT BE SO SIMPLE! Check out these video clips:

(after putting car in neutral and unable to turn off engine!!!)



and the CA crash:
“911 Call Released from Crash that Prompted Initial Toyota/Lexus Floor Mat Recall”
(with California Highway Patrolman driving unable to stop vehicle)

"Witnesses saw flames coming from the front and rear tires of the speeding 2009 Lexus ES 350 before it crashed Aug. 28 in Santee, suggesting ?long, constant heavy braking,? said Sgt. Scott Hill, the lead sheriff’s investigator. "

There are no mechanical contacts or connections with the transmission, accelerator or stop button on modern toyotas. No keys to turn. If your car has electronic shift and there is a software or electronics problem the transmission may ignore the postion of the shift lever. Shifting to neutral would not help. If you hold down the engine shutoff button, (and it actually works), for 4 seconds at 90 mph you have traveled 528 ft. You are still going 90 mph, just starting to slow down. Hundreds more feet to stop. Standing on the brakes will take even longer to fight the acclerator and stop the car. If you experience runaway acceleration you better hope you are on an empty freeway. If not, you are going to hit something or someone.

If it’s true that the cars cannot be put in neutral,
is the priority repair Toyota should be racing to accomplish.

Then, as they figure out the software programming glitch, they can repair as they go knowing no one else is barreling head long into a mass of unsuspecting traffic.

---- unless that’s parts of the glitch.
I wonder ; can these cars be put into neutral while driving under normal circumstances, right now today that there is no appearent problems ?

( I have not test driven any vehicles but my own, all of which can be thrown into neutral at any speed. )

Turning off the ignition key should be practiced because in addition to losing power to steering and brakes, the most common BIG concern is that one will turn it off too far ( easy in a panic state ) and LOCK THE STEERING COLUMN !

That is why it’s the last resort.

What key? In the cars with problems there is no key. Modern Toyotas are turned off (powered down) by pressing an off button for at least 3 seconds. This sends an electronic signal to a processor instructing it to shut down the engine. As long as you have no electronic or software problems with the process the car should shut down. Would a Prius owner please tell us, after you go through this process and the car shuts down, is the steering wheel locked? I have not tried it or heard either way.

That’s assuming one could actually shut it off while in motion. We haven’t had any definitive answers regarding that problem either.