My own Toyota story

You tell me about unintended acceleration, I’m likely to snap back: “Hell, I have enough trouble trying to come up with intended acceleration.”

That said, there are people who think Toyota has truly screwed the pooch with this little scandal. The Autoextremist, for instance, weighs in:

The Toyota implosion marks a definitive shift in the American automotive landscape. After dominating the hearts and minds of the American consumer public for the better part of three decades, we are now witnessing the end of Toyota’s reign over this market.

With Toyota unable to avoid the kind of national and now international scrutiny — and notoriety — that has humbled lesser companies, we will see Toyota eventually fall back from the top tier in this market, eclipsed by a host of savvy competitors led by a dramatically rejuvenated Ford and an increasingly aggressive Hyundai.

Maybe. I’m hearing from people wondering if they should unload their Toyotas now while there’s still time. (Answer: No.) Having survived a bout of unplanned wide-open throttle, I continue to believe that anything automotive is ultimately fixable.

It was late one night, and I was heading home in my ancient Celica from a swing shift at what may be considered a moderate speed. And then it wasn’t quite so moderate. I glanced at the tach, which was way up by the 5500-rpm redline. Okay, fine: if we have to do this in second gear all the way home, we shall.

The next day, the problem was diagnosed: broken throttle spring. Replacement part: $2.

Nowadays, of course, you can’t get anything diagnosed for under three figures. J. Random Camryite almost certainly has a slushbox and no idea how to take it out of gear. (“Won’t it hurt the transmission?” Well, maybe. On the other hand, crashing into something will hurt a whole lot more than the transmission.) And most of the time, popping the hood won’t tell you a damn thing unless there’s been major engine trauma.

The point, though, is that this kind of incident is survivable, provided you don’t suddenly dissolve into a puddle of fear.


  1. fillyjonk »

    4 February 2010 · 10:53 am

    And maybe I’m overly sensitive to such things – as someone who has had to do things like get a rental car in the past when my sole source of transportation was in the shop – but Panetta’s “Just stop driving them for now” statement isn’t that helpful. I’m sure there are thousands of folks in the US rolling their eyes and going, “Sure, Leon, I’ll just go to my spare garage and pull out the spare car I keep for situations just like this.” Or maybe the idea is that folks will shift to taking light rail to work…the light rail that doesn’t exist in most communities.

    I’m beginning to think we need to go back to cars like the 1960s era Beetles, where someone with a few tools and a modicum of common sense could fix, or at the very least, diagnose, the problems that cropped up with the car.

  2. CGHill »

    4 February 2010 · 11:40 am

    That was actually Ray LaHood, but all the government’s car guys are required to sound equally stupid.

  3. fillyjonk »

    4 February 2010 · 11:49 am

    D’oh. And I should have known, LaHood was from not too far away from where I used to live.

  4. Jeff Brokaw »

    4 February 2010 · 8:23 pm

    So, all I’m hearing is that my careful strategy to avoid Toyota is finally vindicated, after 25 years!

  5. Jeffro »

    4 February 2010 · 9:57 pm

    I suspect the “dissolve in a puddle of fear” has a lot to do with the problems. I’ve had several throttle return springs break on carb equipped vehicles and one semi. Sticking my toe under the pedal and pulling back kept things under control several times, and just shutting the vehicle off worked, too. A pair of pliers to straighten a few coils, hook the spring, and drive to a parts store to buy a new spring.

  6. Donna B. »

    5 February 2010 · 1:06 am

    This fiasco reminds me once again that I need to thank my father and mother for teaching me more than how to put the car in gear and press “go”.

  7. Mel »

    7 February 2010 · 12:43 am

    In one of the tragic cases, where the folks were killed in a Toyota crash presumably due to unexpected acceleration … I never could understand why they didn’t turn the key off.

    I mean, they made a frickin 911 call from the car!

    Of note – If you ever have to perform the “turn engine off while driving” maneuver, you’ll have to turn said key back to “run” after the engine dies, lest your steering will be locked. Considering I had to do this on the Belle Isle Bridge in heavy traffic, that could have been “bad”.

    Reason for my use of this technique: I replaced the water pump but didn’t sufficiently tighten the fan during replacement … which tried to exit through the radiator.

    To be fair, as soon as I heard the noise I knew what I had done … made a rapid lane change under power (and a now useless water pump), pointed towards the shoulder and a wide open exit, then killed it so as to not cook the engine.

    Like Donna, I need to thank my parents for teaching me more than just how to press “go”.

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