ABC News Spotlights Toyota Runaway Problem

Written by  //  November 5, 2009  //  Consumer Tips, Money News  //  42 Comments

The Toyota Motor Corporation is finding itself in an unfamiliar place as media, consumer groups and government officials examine a problem regarding select Toyota and Lexus models. “Runaway Toyota” may soon become a commonly used term as that describes a serious situation involving certain vehicles.

Fiery Crash

Indeed, it was this past August when a fiery Lexus crash killed four members of one family in California. That crash involved a California Highway Patrol officer, Mark Saylor, and his family as their loaner Lexus suddenly surged to speeds in excess of 100 mph before crashing into another car, flipping over, and landing down an embankment.

Saylor’s brother-in-law, who had been riding in the back seat called 9-1-1 to report the runaway car, telling the emergency operator that the Lexus was surging out of control. The car, on loan to Saylor as their own Lexus was in for maintenance, allegedly experienced a jammed accelerator due to an all-weather floor mat that wedged up underneath the pedal.

Toyota’s floor mat finding was supported by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration (NHTSA) who ordered the Japanese automaker to recall some 3.8 million vehicles with floor mat problems. The NHTSA agreed to allow Toyota to temporarily fix the problem by using zip ties to hold drive side floor mats in place. In the meantime, Toyota and Lexus owners were instructed to remove their floor mats in advance of their service call.

ABC News

But not everyone is convinced that floor mats are to blame for this and other crashes which have killed as many as sixteen people. ABC News’s Brian Ross has been investigating the problem airing reports on “Good Morning America” and “Nightline” in recent days to outline his findings. Ross shared comments from other Toyota and Lexus owners who have insisted that their cars surged for reasons other than jammed floor mats.

Indeed, in one account aired by Ross a Toyota Prius driver, Elizabeth James, claimed that her car surged even though her foot was not on the accelerator. Slamming on the brake failed to bring her Prius to a stop, rather it took her driving off the road, through a field and crashing into a river to end her ordeal.

Sean Kane

One safety advocate, Sean Kane, was interviewed by Ross for his expose. Kane, who founded Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. in 2004 following a tenure with Ralph Nader’s Center for Auto Safey, claims that the situation with affected Toyota and Lexus vehicles points to an electrical problem, not floor mats.

Kane told Ross that beginning in 2002, Toyota began to use an electronic computer control system to regulate the accelerator. Instead of the driver controlling acceleration directly from the gas pedal, these particular cars send a signal to the computer which exercises electronic control over speed. Thus, there is no longer a mechanical component for drivers to rely on, which means that they may be at the mercy of an errant computer. Kane has recorded more than one thousand accidents and incidents since then involving Toyota surge problems.

Toyota Responds

On Tuesday, Toyota responded to the initial ABC News report, dismissing claims that anything other than floor mats were to blame. Later in the day, the NHTSA noted that the floor mat fix was a temporary measure and that the federal agency was still investigating the problem. That night, ABC News followed up its earlier investigation with an update by Ross who spoke to several owners involved in crashes, including some who are now suing Toyota.

Finally, Ross contacted Consumers Union to learn what people can do to stop their runaway Toyotas. Their test driver explained that drivers need to first put their foot on the brake…hard. Then, with foot still on the brake put the car in neutral which will stop the still high revving car. Once stopped, the driver can turn their vehicle off and exit.


ABC Nightline

Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.

Toyota Acceleration Problem Is Still Unresolved (The New York Times)

Toyota’s Answer To Deadly Floor Mats: Zip Ties!

42 Comments on "ABC News Spotlights Toyota Runaway Problem"

  1. LD Jackson November 5, 2009 at 8:41 am ·

    A very tragic and sad situation. I realize technologically advanced cars are nice, but give me a good old clunker with a real key any day of the week.
    .-= LD Jackson´s last blog ..How well has the economic stimulus worked? =-.

  2. Matthew C. Keegan November 5, 2009 at 10:23 am ·

    Larry, I agree. Sometimes the technology offers terrific benefits until you realize that it may come back to bite you in the end. Very sad what happened to Saylor and his family.

  3. Lon Bierma November 5, 2009 at 5:09 pm ·

    I had a gas pedal stick in my first car over 50 years ago. It was winter and the road was icy. It took me a minute (too long) to figure out that I had to turn off the key. I have a 2004 Toyota Camry and it has a regular key. Shifting to neutral should work but it would probably blow the engine. My first response would be to turn off the ignition.

  4. Matthew C. Keegan November 5, 2009 at 5:26 pm ·

    Lon, the only problem with turning off the ignition is that you no longer have control of the steering. The tip shared at the end of the article by Consumers Union is worth repeating: slam on the brake, while your foot is still on the brake shift the transmission into neutral which will stop the car, then turn off the ignition.

  5. Rose Lloyd November 6, 2009 at 6:40 pm ·

    My husband was killed ,driving a Toyota Tacoma, in 2003. It was thought that he may have driven to fast round a bend, but when I received photo’s of the area, there was only a slight bend in the road. This new information may well be the explanation. I would like to join with others to get to the bottom of this.!!!

    San Diego

  6. Matthew C. Keegan November 6, 2009 at 6:50 pm ·

    Rose, I am so sorry for your loss.

    As far as taking further action, please check my links and visit the ABC News site which is running the story. They have information on what owners can do or can refer you to the proper sources. I’ll try to update my information down the line; the news is changing even as I write this.

  7. Dave Hall November 9, 2009 at 8:14 am ·

    I purchased a Rav 4 turbo diesel in 2007. I had only had it 6 weeks when, whilst my wife was driving it, she said suddenly took off. We live in South Africa and it was late at night and you do not just stop anywhere. She managed to control the speed below 160km/h in 60km/h area, travelling with her foot on the brake for about 5 kilometres until it was safe to stop. She then applied full brake bringing the car to a stop in a cloud of smoke as the clutch was busy burning up. In her panic she had forgotten to engage the clutch which if she had might have blown the engine. Toyota replaced the clutch free of charge but claimed driver abuse or carpet sticking on the accelerator. This enfuriated my wife and myself as my wife is not an incompetent nor unware driver and and at no stage during the 5 km dash did she feel that the carpet caused the problem. In any event she said her feet were so busy on the pedals all this time, surely the carpet would have become dislodged, the return spring on the accelerator pedal is quite strong. I felt that Toyota must have been aware of this problem as they very quickly came up with the seemingly standard response of the floor mats sticking. I am an Electric Engineer and understand computers and My first theory was a computor glitch. This happens all the time with micro processors and the solution is to switch off the power and switch it back on again. The glitch has now disappeared making it almost impossible to analyse. This I suspect is what is happening with the Toyota car processors. If they keep on thinking that the carpets are at fault, people are going to continue to be hurt.

  8. Matthew C. Keegan November 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm ·

    Dave, it makes me wonder if Toyota knows that they are in serious trouble and have been found out. I’m glad that your wife was safe, but I’d be scared to let her take that car out on the road again. My wife owns a different Toyota model, but it makes me wonder….

  9. HDSRED November 10, 2009 at 12:57 pm ·

    This article starts withstating that Toyota finds itself in an unfamiliar place…….uumm how is that? Do you mean that Toyota has never covered and denied bad things that have put people lives at risk? Try doing more research auther, they have known for the last five yeras about this. Also, other topics that Toyota has tried to make go away and endangered peoples lives: Toyota Sludge:

    and also Toyota Frames rusting out:

    Wake up people, Toyota is not the company you think they are, at least the Domestic car companies take responsibility and fix their problems, like Ford did with the Pinto.

  10. Matthew C. Keegan November 10, 2009 at 1:02 pm ·

    Hdsred, I mean that Toyota hasn’t been subjected to such intensive media scrutiny prior to this investigation.

    The engine sludge issue pales in comparison with this — do people die because of engine sludge? I don’t believe so.

    Also, I have discussed Toyota problems previously most recently the Toyota Whistleblower Complaint from this past summer.

  11. Nick Anderson December 1, 2009 at 10:09 am ·

    I am appalled that this situation has not been deemed as a National Emergency. Happy I don’t own a Toyota, as I would be afraid to drive it. Unhappy that any Toyota coming my way may be going 100 mph and the driver can’t control it.

    How many families like the Saylor’s must die before this is addressed and dealt with and fixed once and for all? Maybe when an out of control Toyota hits a school bus and kills 10 kids, it might get the attention of the goverment that wants to run everything else. Never a Toyota in my past nor in the future. As a matter of fact, no foreign cars period.

  12. Dave December 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm ·

    Actually if you put it in neutral the engine should have a rev limiter that won’t allow the motor to go above redline. You’d have to check your particular make/model/year but they are common now to prevent drivers from over revving the engines. They don’t help when you downshift when you meant to upshift but would prevent the engine from blowing due to the above mentioned issue.

  13. Matthew C. Keegan December 22, 2009 at 5:05 pm ·

    Thanks, Dave. I shared what Consumer Reports said, but your reasoning makes sense. I’m still disgusted that it took an accident of this magnitude to show customers what they need to do to avoid serious injury or death.

  14. Timothy D. Naegele January 23, 2010 at 11:59 am ·

    What Toyota has been doing is criminal!

    See, e.g.,

  15. Barry Jackson February 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm ·

    i believe Toyota will do everything in their power to correct the rare problem. People need to realize that every make can have potential safey related problems. If you do the math i think you will find that these occurences are very rare based on the number of toyotas tant are on the roadway today. It is important for the media and people not to try and tear down a company with a 60 year track record of success and excellences!!!

  16. Matthew C. Keegan February 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm ·

    Here is the problem with that, Barry. Toyota may have known about this problem dating back to early 2007, if not before. The company has repeatedly stonewalled efforts by investigators and as many as 19 people may have been killed.

    A company’s excellent track record cannot free them of responsibility. There is a lot more that may come out, something that may cost Toyota billions to fix.

  17. Ritties February 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm ·

    Why is Toyota not telling drivers how to get out of this “sticky” situation??
    Remember, if your car accelerates out of control, do four things:

    1. DON’T PANIC.

    Could have saved lives….

  18. Jerry Boone February 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm ·

    Barry jackson says toyota has a 60 track record for quality. Where has he been. I remember when toyotas fell apart before you got them home. Riding in them felt like a death trap. For years, the carolla was probably the worst thing on the road. We only bought them because they were relative cheap and got good gas mileage. I remember a neighbor putting his in his front lawn with a big sign that said JUNK because he got tired of having it fixed. Even today, i cant understand why you have to spend about 400 bucks every 60,000 mile to replace the timing belt or suffer the risk of engine failure.
    .-= JERRY BOONE´s last blog ..Surging Property Taxes Contribute To Timeshare Foreclosures =-.

  19. JERRY BOONE February 14, 2010 at 12:15 pm ·

    My inlaws have a large auto repair shop. They have noticed that they get a lot of 4 cyclinder toyota engines that blow up at about 115000 miles?
    .-= JERRY BOONE´s last blog ..Some Ideas for the Week … =-.

  20. Lauren Hsong February 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm ·

    There are people testifying before congress, claiming they DID put the tranny into neutral, but the vehicle didn’t respond for whatever reason Not knowing enough about ‘drive by wire’ systems it doesn’t make sense to me, but if true, there is no way to get a runaway Toyota under control

  21. Spectre March 10, 2010 at 8:35 pm ·

    Ritties is so correct. It amazes me that people cannot think to do what to me is so fundamentally obvious if given a situation like a stuck accelerator. Perhaps people should not be allowed to drive if they aren’t familiar with the vehicles they intend to operate. I drive a manual transmission, always will, so I have the added benefit of a clutch, but I just cannot believe so many of these people are bright enough to disengage the transmission and then shut down the engine.

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