• Oct 26, 2009
Contrary to previous reports, the death of a four people and the largest recall in Toyota's history was caused by a compound of errors. The initial buzz/word on the virtual street suggested that it was simply an improperly placed floor mat that doomed CHP officer Mark Saylor and three family members when the Lexus ES350 they were traveling in got jammed open at over 100 MPH before crashing and bursting into flames. But it turns out it was more than just a floor mat.

First of all, the floor mat in question didn't belong to the ES350 (actually, the ES350 didn't belong to Officer Saylor -- it was a dealer loaner while his car was being worked on). The mats in the ES350 that crashed were from a RX400h. Not only that, they were those thick, all-weather hard rubber mats. Regardless, because the dealer had placed the wrong mats into the wrong car, there was no way to properly mount them. Also, it seems that the pedal design of the ES350 also played a role. The NHTSA discovered that, "Beyond the main pivot, the lever is not hinged and has no means for relieving forces caused by interferences." We think that means it can easily get stuck.

But that's not all. The NHTSA had also learned from a previous ES350 investigation that, "the Lexus ES braking system loses power-assist when the throttle is fully opened, increasing braking distance fivefold." That's not good. And the brakes had signs of heavy wear and damage, "Rotors were discolored and heated, had very rough surfaces, had substantial deposits of brake pad material, and showed signs of bright orange oxidation on the cooling fins consistent with endured braking."

Additionally, because the Lexus has push button start, the operator must push the button for three seconds before the engine will shut off. A piece of info obviously and sadly not known by Officer Saylor. The San Diego County Sheriff's office is leading the investigation and has not yet released their final report. We'll keep you posted on that, but as they say in plane crashes, looks like the holes in the swiss cheese all lined up.

[Source: LA Times]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 94 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Unfortunately, he seems to know more about the basics than you do. What he said is 100% correct.

      A vacuum-operated booster (which most gasoline-powered passenger cars are equipped with) will run out of vacuum after a few brake applies (try it when your car is in parked the driveway). If the driver panicked when he fist pushed the brakes and tried "pumping" them, then this could have happened. At this point, the booster does not care whether you car is turned off or the engine is at WOT, there is simply no more vacuum.

      Secondly, I was an engineer for a brake supplier until last year, and I participated in benchmarking studies: every vacuum-assisted brake booster I saw worked this way, whether they came from a US supplier, a European supplier or an Asian one. And no, Toyota does not design their own braking systems. This is not to say they aren't responsible (they are), but if they sourced their braking systems from TRW or Bosch for example, then American and/or European engineers designed it for the most part. So dial down the xenophobic rhetoric, please.

      Thirdly, in my 6 years at said brake supplier, I have never seen a full-panic brake stop calculation taking into account the engine working against you. We did take into account running out of vacuum (I think it's mandated by FMVSS), but not the engine working against you (and the Lexus ES350 is equipped with a 3.5L V6 pushing out 250+ HP).
      • 5 Years Ago
      No matter what the faults were with the braking system, this still comes down, in its entirety, to driver error. He still had the option to put it in neutral and/or shut it off. He failed to do that. It's a tragic, unfortunate accident, but the responsibility lies almost entirely at the driver's feet.

      That said; "The NHTSA had also learned from a previous ES350 investigation that, 'the Lexus ES braking system loses power-assist when the throttle is fully opened, increasing braking distance fivefold.'"

      ROFL, really Toyota? Seriously? What'd those bozos do, forget the check valve in the brake booster vacuum line or something? And how'd such a moronic oversight make it past their oh-so-rigorous product development regime, anyhow? "Relentless pursuit of perfection" my ass. 20 years chasing Mercedes and BMW and they still can't get anything right. Well, wait, no. Someone had enough sense to have a respectable, competent company engineer the V10 in the LF-A for them. They got that right.

      What a piece of crap.
        • 5 Years Ago
        All cars lose break assist at full throttle.
        • 5 Years Ago
        *All* cars do not lose vacuum assist @ WOT. Most will *after a few pumps of the pedal*, but all of them most assuredly will not-my diesel, for instance, does not-it has a vacuum pump. And a few pumps of the pedal is all you should need in a situation like this. If you can't get the car stopped by standing on the brakes the first time, either you're doing something wrong or there's something wrong with the braking system on the car. Which brings us back to Toyota and their inability to engineer anything correctly.

        The ECM should have detected simultaneous brake and throttle application and killed the throttle the way a lot of newer cars do. And further, the brakes should have been powerful enough to stop the car from 70mph with the engine stuck @ WOT. Clearly, they were not. Given Lexus' history with braking systems, this doesn't really surprise me.

        Toyota a history of equipping their cars with garbage brakes (witness the current LS460, which takes a whopping 209ft to haul its fat ass down from 70mph to a standstill-which means that it's out-braked by not only a Chevy Suburban but a '71 Buick Riviera with drums in the back on bias ply tires. Pathetic.) and this incident with the ES is just another example of it.

        Beyond that, I've lost power assisted braking while driving before; I've lost it in cars much bigger and heavier than the LS-at one point the 20-year-old brake booster hose in my '86 Mercedes 560SEL snapped in half on my way to work. I had zero issues stopping that car and driving it absolutely normally for the remainder of the trip to the office. It idled like crap because it had a vacuum leak the size of Texas, but the brakes were completely functional and stopping the car unassisted posed no issue whatsoever.

        Hell, I lost braking -entirely- in a 1970 Cadillac Coupe DeVille while going down the grapevine from LA into the central valley. No brakes at all; none. Pedal went right to the floor without any resistance at all with absolutely zero effect on the car's rate of acceleration. And you know what? I had no issues keeping that 2+ ton barge under control and getting it stopped in a safe, timely manner without damaging myself, the car, or anyone or anything else on the road.

        What I took from the NTSB's statement about the ES taking 5x the distance to stop without power assistance is that it's difficult or impossible to exert enough pedal pressure in the ES to stop it in a reasonable distance without power assist. Again, that would be indicative of (another) serious design flaw in the braking system.

        Bottom line here is that the driver was incompetent, his lack of skill was no doubt compounded by panic induced by the situation he was faced with, and the car failed to behave as it should have. The ultimate failing is with the driver, but Toyota's halfassed engineering was a factor as well.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Throttle-by-wire + full throttle + full pressure on the brakes = ?

      It SHOULD put the car instantaneously in limp home mode. Clearly that didn't happen here. Even if the driver should have done something differently, there really should be no doubt that the car should have done something differently as well.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Any gear head knows that EVERY CAR ON THE ROAD loses brake assist at full throttle.... WOT=NO VACUUM=NO BRAKE ASSIST.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's somewhat sad and disgusting that floormats have largely been blamed for this.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Derek :
        Similarly a foreign object can block the throttle pedal in any car in principle. Sitruc is raising an important issue, that though it's easier to blame Toyota in this case, educating drivers what to do in *any* car in case of an emergency could potentially save more lives than just fixing floor-mats in specific Toyota vehicles. In fact, driver training is a lot more rigorous in many West European countries than here and includes handling emergency situations.
        • 5 Years Ago
        They are the root cause. If the floor mats hadn't held down the pedal none of the rest would have mattered.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Ok, regardless of this particular crash, many people have learned some new information. More people are now aware of how to turn off a push-button ignition car. More people are aware that some cars are programmed to sense that you're pushing the brake and gas at the same time and cut the power.

      My question would be, isn't it time for all the manufacturers that don't program their cars to intervene when both pedals are held to reflash these cars with a new program that can? It shouldn't be so hard for ones that can be flashed.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Good, I don't like following cars with stuck brake lights.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Raffi

        It's far safer to have a broken vehicle that won't move, than a vehicle moving 100MPH down the road that is defective in design.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "the holes in the swiss cheese all lined up" - awesome quote. I must use it at least once.
        • 5 Years Ago
        That's a phrase used in aviation often. It means one hole at this level, another at his level, but in a different location. Add more layers, all with differently placed holes. When the holes don't line up, the accident is avoided. If things happen and the holes line up, that's when really bad things happen.
      • 5 Years Ago
      All you people that are blaming the driver - a 19 year CHP veteran - with your 'duh stupid, put the car in neutral' bull$#!T are quite frankly pissing me off. (No, I'm not a police officer of any kind) You're assuming you know everything he tried and how much time he had to do it in... and YOU DON'T.
      Bottom line this is a design flaw of some kind and EVERY car maker should go make sure that if the brake pedal and throttle are engaged at the same time the BRAKE PEDAL WINS. That's it... forget about the stupid floor mats.
        • 5 Years Ago
        thank you. Anyone who thinks they're smarter should go rent an es. bring it to 125. set the cruise and attempt to save themselves in taffic, and post it on youtube.

        manage that without issue and you'll have some room to talk.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm sorry, but it just doesn't take 19 years as a police officer to know to take the car out of gear.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Is it just me or did they just write that the floor mat got "jammed open?"
      • 5 Years Ago
      no drive by wire? in my 10 year old vw if the brake and gas are pushed at the same time the ecu automatically cuts the gas... good news if i put in wrong floor mats ;) bad news when i try to heel-and-toe haha
        • 5 Years Ago
        A sad part of this story is that push button start is itself a safety feature. The idea is that when you actually crash your car, there is no key on the steering column to wedge into your flesh on impact. In the US the feature is sold as a luxury feature, but in Europe it is a safety thing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        i'm by far not a toyota supporter, id rather bash them for this recall, but even in my "non-toyota" i have this problem, actually happened to me twice in the last 2 days. my gas pedal got stuck to the floor. I indeed do have a rubber mat that protects the floor nicely in the winter. getting to 100mph that gives you a lot of time to think about putting the car in neutral, thats what i did until i got the problem solved and the pedal released. i say it was the drivers fault on that aspect. however i do say the design of the gas pedal is at fault too. how did cars work before those lil plastic tabs that held back your floor mat?? i sure dont remember 100mph crashes because of floor mats before!
        • 5 Years Ago
        @paul,
        All that needed was for him to put the car into Neutral. It is as simple as moving the gear selector up one. Everyone is blaming Toyota for this issue but it could happen to anyone in any car.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If there is a civil action in this case, keep in mind that one only needs to be more than 50% responsible for a judgment to go against you. So even if the driver should have shifted to neutral or held the start button down for three seconds, a jury can be of the mind that Toyota was still more responsible. If I were a juror, I would take into account the training of a highway patrolman and nail Toyota.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @All

        Does the Lexus ES350 have safety features preventing you from shifting the car accidentally while moving at specific speeds? I know cars will not allow you to engage park unless you are stopped, but does the same go for Neutral in these cars?
        • 5 Years Ago
        This seems like something that they could go back and fix with a firmware update. A little bit of code that says something like "if (gas=down) and (brakepedal>50%) then set engine power limit = 10% of max until car is restarted"

        This would allow somebody to limp out of traffic in the event of a sensor malfunction, but would keep the power output low enough that you could stop it even in the event of a brake failure.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Same with my old 2001 Volkswagen Jetta but there is a one or two second delay before it happens.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Paul:


        No way to get it out of gear? NEUTRAL IS STRAIGHT UP FROM DRIVE ON THE ES350.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Paul
        Umm what did you do when you needed to park them? Does the 3 second thing only apply when moving?
        • 5 Years Ago
        If you can't put it in neutral, you can surely put it in 2 or 1.

        And how could he *not* know how to switch off the engine? (Did he not own a computer?) Does that also mean that if he attended a road traffic accident while on duty, he wouldn't know how to kill the engine on an overturned vehicle?

        The death of a person is a tragedy, to be sure, but there's some personal and even *professional* accountability here.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Most power-assisted brakes (brake boosters) will fade after a while if the brakes are applied at the same as the throttle, because the brake boosters are driven by engine vacuum and the vacuum "boost" cannot be replenished while throttle is applied. That's not a flaw in the brake booster design, that's just how the system works.
        • 5 Years Ago
        THANK YOU! Finally someone on here knows how brakes work!
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is tragic for so many reasons, the least of which being it could have been avoided. Sounds like Toyota needs to rethink their gas pedal design, (I also don't like the fact that the brakes lose assist @ WOT... barring some kind of failure, your brakes should always be ready to execute a full bore panic stop) and dealers need to make sure the correct mats are in the respective vehicles. Most importantly, people need to educate themselves on the vehicles they drive, and what simple but effective steps they can take to avoid situations like these.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Very interesting... it makes perfect sense, but I honestly did not think about that. You never know until you know. Thanks very much for the lesson.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Brake assist requires engine vacuum... At wide open throttle the engine has ZERO vacuum... No vacuum=no brake assist.... Any car you drive will have the same results.
        • 5 Years Ago
        A properly designed brake system should have a check valve on the vacuum line to the booster to keep brake assist in situations where the engine isn't making much or any vacuum. Most I have used are sufficient for 3-5 brake applications before the vacuum depletes to where assist is lost.
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