Road Test Special: Toyota and the Runaway Vehicles

Road Test Special: Toyota and the Runaway Vehicles

19.05.2010: Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Toyota Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 6 months or so, you already know all about the problems and media-induced panic that has been attached to Toyota vehicles.

Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Toyota

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 6 months or so, you already know all about the problems and media-induced panic that has been attached to Toyota vehicles.

It all started with a California Police Officer driving a loaner Lexus. Apparently the car kept speeding up until it reached 150 mph (241km/h) whereupon he drove it right into a bridge - killing himself, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law. Before destroying a perfectly good Lexus in a ball of fire, his brother-in-law thought it would be a good idea to call emergency services for some advice. I can't believe that with all of those people combined - their I.Q. didn't quite reach up to the level of a worm.

 C'mon people... if you can't stop the vehicle, bump the gear selector into "N".. that means neutral - all power is then taken away from the driving wheels. Apply the brakes, pull over to the side of the road and switch off the ignition. That makes a lot more sense than killing yourself. Even just turning the key off or pressing the start/stop button would have stopped the engine! It's not rocket science.

After that, things really started getting crazy!  A couple of Prius models apparently wouldn't stop for their owners either -  they just kept speeding up and the owner crashed the car or drove it into a river. Every day a new "incident" popped up. One guy even had to get a cop car to pull in front of him to stop his Prius!  Interestingly, Toyota did tests on that vehicle with the U.S. government looking over their shoulders and found that the driver was alternately pushing the gas and then the brake pedal.. he wasn't in trouble at all- there was nothing wrong with the car!!!

One thing that stands out to me is that other than two "incidents" in Canada, all of the Toyota "problems" have happened in the "sue everybody – anybody -  even if it's your fault" … the good old U.S. of A.   Hmmmm. Coincidence?

As I write this, a lot of the media frenzy and the public panicking have subsided - for now. That said, I thought I'd do something completely “reckless” -  I'm going to put my family's lives in danger and drive a Toyota for five weeks - just to see if we can survive! Just kidding... I have complete confidence in Toyota vehicles, but I want to make a point.

As I embark on my long term test drive with a Toyota Rav4, I want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about vehicle recalls and emergency safety.

First of all I want everyone to know that I have specifically chosen a Toyota vehicle for my long term test because I am confident that they produce exceptional products.  To some degree I feel they, as a manufacturer, are being punished and/or their name dragged through the mud for things that may not be their fault. 

I won’t get into that here, but I do strongly believe that when vehicle recalls arise - the media in general - tends to take it a step further and it turns into a proverbial witch-hunt.  We’ve seen it happen before with manufacturers like Audi and GM, and it can take years and years for these manufacturers to recover from the cutting words put into main-stream media by journalists and car owners.

The opposite can be true as well. Did you know that GM was recalling 1.2 million vehicles around the world for faulty steering systems - all while the Toyota fiasco is at it's height? Honda also had a large recall right now -  did you hear about those? Recalls happen all the time, and not just with automobiles, but a lot has to do with how the media choose to report on events.

Regardless of manufacturer defects - EVERY driver, young and old, must take responsibility for what happens behind the wheel EVERY TIME they start up a vehicle. 

Driver responsibility is what I’d like to talk about here today.  The fact that I feel confident taking on a long term test-drive with Toyota, or any other manufacturer that may experience or have experienced a recall (and let’s face it most of them have), is my own skills as a driver.  Sure, I come from a background in driver education and may have more confidence than the average Joe on the streets ... but that really shouldn’t be the case. 

People take their lives and the lives of their friends and families into their own hands every time they slide behind the wheel.  I’m not trying to freak anyone out about how safe driving is versus flying for instance, but simply trying to impress upon people that driving is the huge responsibility that our parents drilled into our heads when we got our learner’s permit ... that doesn’t go away as we age ... the responsibility is there from our first day to our last as a licence holder. 

I've got two perfect examples of knowing what to do before trouble develops and how natural instincts can take over within a split second....

A seventeen-year-old boy is driving his first car (it's an older car). He stomps on the gas pedal and the 5.0 litre V-8 engine roars to life as the car lays two nice black patches of rubber on the road. The speed rises to 120 km/h and there is a 90 degree bend up ahead - time to lay off the gas. Trouble is the throttle is stuck to the floor!!!! He casually knocks the transmission into neutral and switches off the ignition while pulling off to the side of the road. His brother and two friends look at him in amazement - they had visions of landing in the field ahead.

Thirteen years later and the same driver is on a motorway driving in the left lane doing approximately 120 km/h. The car in front of him runs over a piece of metal (a bumper from a transport truck that had broken off) and it comes through the windshield - hitting him on the head at such a force his head spins around - looking out the rear window. He signals, puts on the wipers so he can see, and casually drives into the centre median. Puts the van in park and climbs out - becoming unconscious immediately.

Did he think about what he did on both of these occasions? No... it was 100% instinct and training. How do I know?

It was me.

I want to encourage every driver out there to learn NOW about how to handle emergency situations they may face behind the wheel of their cars, trucks and SUV’s.  Don’t wait until there’s a scare with the car you’re driving ... it could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime ... so learn how to avoid danger and recover from emergencies now while you’ve got your wits about you! 

I encourage you to review the following and go out there and try some of these pointers out (under safe circumstances of course where you’ll feel comfortable and be of no danger to anyone else on the road or in a parking lot).  See how your vehicle reacts, listen to how it sounds, see what you can do with it ... know your vehicle, prepare yourself mentally now and hopefully in a panic situation your instincts will take over and you’ll be able to call to mind a few very simple, but potentially life-saving techniques.

Companies are responsible for producing safe vehicles, but as drivers we must take FULL responsibility for our actions behind the wheel.

Another noteworthy mention is that cars are more like computers than cars nowadays ...  Back in the old days a car was manufactured from start to finish by the manufacturer – now we’re getting cars that have been assembled using components from around the world using many pieces from third-party suppliers. For example, did you know that the BMW X3 isn’t made by BMW? Magna in Austria makes it. Acura’s are built alongside Honda and Toyota’s are built side by side with GMs, Subaru's and even Suzuki's. Oh, and Lexus' come off the same line as.. Toyota's

Getting back to the computer side of things … when you bought your last computer and took it home it worked fine, but maybe as the years wore on the hard drive went or maybe the motherboard. HP don’t make the parts, they just assemble them into their box and sell it to you.

They aren’t responsible for the actual replacement of the drive or motherboard, but they replace it with another one, perhaps from another manufacturer. I’m constantly having computer components die on me, how much different will the computers in our cars be?  How often will various computerized or electronic components fail us?

 So what am I hoping to accomplish with my extended Road Test?

Am I out to prove that Toyota makes great vehicles? No ... we all know they make very good reliable vehicles. What I think we'll see is what it's like to live with, in more real-life situations - where we'll use it as if we owned it - warts and all. One week isn't very long to have a vehicle – heck we rarely even have to wash it (that's my wife's big test or pet project for any vehicle - how easy is it to keep clean? How does it “wear”?). Many times we don't get to go shopping for yard supplies or groceries in a test vehicle, but we will with the RAV4!

This is actually going to be a REAL test, because we're in the market for a vehicle this summer and the RAV4 fits the bill perfectly (or does it?)... In the end will we buy one or will we look elsewhere? Stay tuned to find out.

Follow us on Facebook at  where we'll update it every day or two from May 10 to June 15 when it goes back....

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19.05.2010 / MaP

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