• Oct 15, 2009
In the wake of Toyota's huge floor mat recall, theorists have come up with several survival strategies designed to overcome a throttle that's stuck wide-open. Putting some of these theories to the test – and debunking several myths in the process – is the team over at Consumer Reports.

With a large test track and a fleet of vehicles at their disposal, the magazine's engineers initially focused on the "just step hard on the brakes" method of bringing the car to a halt. Interestingly enough, CR tested a Mercedes-Benz E350 and a Volkswagen Jetta Wagon – both fitted with drive-by-wire "smart throttles" that are designed to ignore conflicting inputs (throttle and brake at the same time). CR reports that these cars simply shut down to idle and came safety to a stop. The story was a bit different with a Toyota Venza and Chevrolet HHR, however. When the brakes on those vehicles were firmly applied at 20 mph, their transmissions downshifted to fight the deceleration. The vehicles were both eventually brought to a stop after the first test. However, when the test was repeated at 60 mph on brakes that had been cooled since the earlier run, both vehicles quickly suffered fade from their overheated brakes and were unable to come to a complete stop.

As is the general rule, a vehicle's braking system is stronger than the engine when the car is standing still. However, the tests conducted by Consumer Reports demonstrate that the power of the engine combined with the momentum of a car at highway speed is often enough to overtax the braking system's ability to bring the car to a stop (the brakes overheat and fade). Their suggestion is to simply slide the transmission lever to neutral – removing the engine's power from the equation – and apply the brakes firmly to bring the car to a stop. Once stopped, shut the engine off and then shift safely into Park. This "shift-to-neutral" action was equally effective on all four vehicles. The CR team also explored shutting off the engine (turn the key or hold the Start/Stop button down for more than a few seconds). This method also worked well, but it does present some danger. Switching off the engine disables power steering on most vehicles, eliminates brake boost, and may lock the steering wheel if the key is turned back too far – making a safe stop nearly impossible.

[Source: Consumer Reports | Image: George Heyer/Getty]]


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  • 48 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      With every new car I drive - especially an auto - I take the time to adjust mirrors/seat and look over the vital controls. You never know when a surprise might pop up - knowing where the emergency lights are located, the shift pattern, and stop start procedures - not only helps in an emergency, but makes for a generally more enjoyable driver experience during normal driving. It's not rocket science.

      When I sold cars, I walked each and every potential customer through all the basic controls before we even left the lot. When we swapped drivers, it was in a place where the driver could take their time and adjust everything to their heart's content.

      This sounds like a sad but utterly avoidable incident.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Actually, on most newer cars, turning the key to kill the engine (this is bad advice to give to the average driver - they'll turn the key all the way, locking the steering and thus screwing themselves), you *should* still have enough vacuum boost in reserve to allow you to stop normally a few times, or maybe just one, strong emergency stop. Power steering isn't a big deal at speed. At lower speeds it can be concerning if they don't know what it feels like - an inexperienced driver often freaks out, thinking the steering has completely locked up. It hasn't, you just need a bit more muscle. But if the car is moving, you can still turn the wheel with no power steering. At higher speeds you may not even notice.

      I just... sigh. Look, just put it in neutral, or slam the brake. I mean, come on.

      Obviously this only applies to automatic drivers. I'm sure 99% of manual drivers would just slam the clutch and pull over safely and without incident. Or, you could simply turn the key, which would stop the computer injecting fuel (regardless of sensed throttle position on a DBW), and you'd engine brake to a stop (and stall) eventually as the wheels slowed the engine down.

      While poor mat design is stupid to be sure, this should not have been the crisis people are making it out to be. It's quite easy to deal with, but most people have a very sheep mentality about a lot of things, and when things don't go according to "normal," they completely freak out and freeze up.

      Life is everything, with all variables and scenarios. You can't freak out when something you're not used to happens to you.
      • 5 Years Ago
      awwww.... isn't this sweet? **grabs CRs little chubby cheek** Consumer reports to the rescue!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Simple solution to this issue:

      (also solution to most distracted drivers, driving fatigue, driver inattention, fuel economy, ownership cost, initial cost, complexity, etc)

      Unless you have a doctors notice that you either (a) have no left foot, or (b) have no right hand, you MUST DRIVE A MANUAL TRANSMISSION VEHICLE. If for any reasons other than (a) or (b) you are proven non-coordinated enough to operate a clutch and shifter, then you do not belong behind the wheel of a 2000 kg unguided missle.

      My wife would "never drive a manual"...now she won't drive the 1 vehicle we have with an auto anymore because it's "boring". Took her 1 month to become proficient.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The off-duty CHP officer was in a loaner ES350 – I bet he would’ve been able to stop in his own car, but for all we know cars with start buttons and ES-style shifters were new to him. As for Neutral… do automatic transmission drivers even remember that Neutral exists?

      Oh, and I hate cars that disable the throttle when you’re on the brakes. In FWD cars that precludes left-foot braking (I don’t think any RWD drivers use that), and more importantly I find it MUCH easier to parallel park on a steep hill if I use all three pedals at once.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Is it too late to say I wish the outcome of CR's investigation to provide a swift and efficient dispatch of some of their more biased "Journalists"?
      • 5 Years Ago
      The brakes are always going to over-power the engine if you REALLY want to stop the car, unless you are driving at extremely high speed where they will heat up way before you stop.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Whatever the outcome the Toyota brand will suffer from this situation.

      In an attempt to protect brand reputation, vehicle manufacturers have been very proactive towards warranty responsibilities. But Toyotas case is not exemplary.

      Let's hope this "floor mat from hell" doesn't mimic Fords serious safety problem which has plagued it for well over a decade, and has just arisen again.

      http://www.carnorama.com
      • 5 Years Ago
      See I told you so!
      • 5 Years Ago
      The institute of highway safety is recommending installing a boat anchor in all cars now that the user can deploy in a panic situation. It'll make all cars weigh 400 lbs more, but we'll be safer.
      • 5 Years Ago
      From the report:
      "If the driver had less strength or was traveling at higher speeds, they would not be able to slow down nearly as much."

      I get the traveling at higher speeds, but if a driver isn't physically capable of handling an emergency situation including but not limited to standing on the brakes or steering without power assist, maybe they shouldn't be driving.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The steps I (think) I would take in a mysterious open throttle situation. I'm pretty sure I would actually follow through with them, since my dad covered what to do in a stuck throttle situation tons of times growing up from early childhood on a dirtbike to driving a car when I was getting a license.

      1. Check the cruise control.
      2. Wiggle the pedal around with my foot, looking for something interfering.
      3. Turn off key or press off button.
      4. Pull car into neutral.
      5. Push in clutch.
      6. Push brakes and prepare all passengers to jump out quickly.
      7. Look for soft ground and hold on tight (and pray).

      This particular problem should have been solved by step 2. I've made it through that many steps before, as I've had the floor mat to pedal interference before (not in a Toyota). It total it took me probably less than two seconds to figure out what was wrong. If that hadn't turned out to work I had 5 more options for getting the car stopped, and overheating the brakes is the last resort.

      I don't mean to sound insensitive at all. It's tragic what happened to this family. But I think the real problem here is the practice of giving a license to anyone that asks for it. This, like most other automotive safety issues, would be best solved with better driver training. Everyone should know those simple steps or at least some variation of them. If they don't, they shouldn't have a license.
        • 5 Years Ago
        As a side note, the elimination of step 5 is just one more reason that torque converter automatics are less safe and generally inferior to a conventional transmission.
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