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Transportation Bug Technology

Toyota Pedal Issue Highlights Move To Electronics 913

Posted by timothy
from the drive-by-wire dept.
cyclocommuter writes with an excerpt from a brief WSJ story on increasing electronic control of car components: "The gas pedal system used Toyota Motor Co.'s recall crisis was born from a movement in the auto industry to rely more on electronics to carry out a vehicle's most critical functions. The intricacy of such systems, which replace hoses and hydraulic fluid with computer chips and electrical sensors, has been a focus as Toyota struggled to find the cause for sudden acceleration of vehicles that led the company to halt sales of eight models this week."
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Toyota Pedal Issue Highlights Move To Electronics

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  • Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Renraku (518261) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:22PM (#30973194) Homepage

    At least in one case, the brakes failed, the accelerator stuck, and the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition. Also, they couldn't put it into neutral because it had a push-button shifter as well. People really should learn about the car before they drive it, but this is a monumental fuck-up on the part of Toyota. I think that we can do the push-button stuff CORRECTLY, but this isn't the way to do it.

    • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by maxwell demon (590494) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:26PM (#30973222) Journal

      Well, maybe all-electronic cars should be required to have a highly visible button labelled "Emergency Off" - I think I don't have to explain what this should (and shouldn't!) do.

      • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:45PM (#30973440)

        Or maybe we should recognize that multi-ton incendiary missiles capable of travelling at a hundred miles per hour on a level surface should be required to have at least 3 manual systems: Shifting, braking, and emergency shutoff.

        • by snikulin (889460) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:05PM (#30973684)

          'kill -9 car' works just fine!
          Everything else is for n00bs.

      • Re:Safety Critical (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:47PM (#30973470)
        My girlfriend recently purchased a new car that has push button ignition. She decided to show off the car to one of her friends and took it out for a demo drive at night (and luckily only around the local suburbs). While driving, the friend was attempting to locate the navigation controls and pressed the ignition button... which completely turned the car off and left the two of them coasting in the dark with no headlights. Needless to say they freaked out but managed to stop the car without incident. Still, entirely too easy to accidentally disable a moving vehicle.
        • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ctmurray (1475885) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:11PM (#30973756) Journal
          On Toyota's with this button you have to hold it down for 3 seconds before it turns off the car. In fact the long time hold has been criticized in relation to these accidents. Since you only have to touch to turn on, when you want to turn off in an emergency you also just poke at the button and nothing happens. In the panic of the moment you don't even consider trying again and holding down for a longer time.
          • My idea (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Chicken_Kickers (1062164) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:33PM (#30974628)
            Talking out of my ass here but I gather that the 3 second delay is to prevent accidental shut-off of the engine due to bumping into the button etc. The solution is to do away with the 3 second delay and have a hinged transparent plastic cover over the ignition button, ala those found on fighter jet joysticks. To press the button, you have to manually lift the plastic cover, preventing accidental presses. Simple solution for an unnecessary problem.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by BitZtream (692029)

              The solution is to just put the damn thing back on a key.

              There is no actual reason not to use a key, there is no usability increase from using a button and most certainly usability problems from using a button.

              At least make the button a fucking toggle rather than momentary contact.

              Perhaps the idiots should take a clue from people who have doing fly by wire for a lot longer ... aircraft.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by raehl (609729)

                There is no actual reason not to use a key, there is no usability increase from using a button and most certainly usability problems from using a button.

                That's not true. I have one of the push-button cars, and when combined with keyless entry, I never take the key fob out of my pocket ever.

                No juggling groceries while trying to get your key out of your pocket ever again.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by BountyX (1227176)
              Another solution is to allow the car to crank while in motion, just like a motorcycle. Motorcycle kill switches are next to the throttle for easy access. Any accidental turn offs just means you crank again. Not a problem. I don't think a plastic cover is the way to go. Cars are not in the air. They require instant off in an emergency where there is surrounding traffic. The motorcycle approach is already tried and true.
      • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:49PM (#30973484) Homepage Journal

        People would understand a set of "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" buttons on the dash..

        --jeffk++

    • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Third Position (1725934) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:30PM (#30973252)

      Well, I'm not sure this incident accurately represents the situation. On balance, the electronic components are safer than the mechanical ones. Electronic components can be automatically monitored and compensated for much more easily than mechanical ones. Sure, this incident isn't good, but one of the reasons it stands out is that safety issues caused by deficient electronic component failures are so rare. On balance, accidents caused by component failure in modern cars are rarer than they've ever been.

      • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:46PM (#30973452)

        citation needed. I'd say the opposite, huge number of replaced PCM modules and sensors show electronics are short lived, needlessly complex solutions offered in lieu of time tested mechanical and hydraulic ones. For example, guess what can happen if O2 sensor in exhaust system is faulty, car can drop rpm to idle then rev high in ten second pulses, very dangerous on highway. Happened to me, found myself in 4000 lbs. bucking steel bronco. Computer should not have so much control over throttle, just a small amount of mixture and timing adjustment, not complete potentially deadly control.

        • by BetterSense (1398915) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:59PM (#30973622)
          I've been around the long-haul trucking business for decades, and I hate to break it to you, but for well over 10 years now, big rigs have had electronic throttle position sensors, with a little bitty, not even particularly well-protected wire running from the pedal to the engine ECM. This is ever since Detroit Diesel came out with their electronically controlled engine in the '90s which was an amazing breakthrough in mileage and reliability. So basically every truck that we've bought or ran for over ten years has had an electronic throttle pedal, and there have been zero problems, except occasionally the TPS itself needs replaced (like every million miles or so). In this case it looks like Toyota fucked up, but that doesn't mean using electronic controls is a bad way to go, because clearly lots of things seem to be able to implement them properly, including airplanes.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by TooMuchToDo (882796)

            In this case it looks like Toyota fucked up, but that doesn't mean using electronic controls is a bad way to go, because clearly lots of things seem to be able to implement them properly, including airplanes.

            If you read the recall, note that it only affects non-drive-by-wire systems. My 2009 Tundra is affected, but out 2008 Camry Hybrid is not. This is a mechanical issue.

        • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Informative)

          by burnin1965 (535071) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:05PM (#30973686) Homepage

          1992 - 1995 Isuzu Trooper recall for accelerator cable stuck causing uncontrolled acceleration [consumeraffairs.com]

          2003 Ford Escape stuck throttle cables result in uncontrolled acceleration [aboutautomobile.com]

          2002 Ford Explorers investigated for stuck throttle cables in cold weather regions [dot.gov]

          1999 - 2004 Suzuki Grand Vitara, recalled due to fraying accelerator cables that result in uncontrolled acceleration and potential crash. [lemonauto.com]

          I guess we need to go back to the tried and true horse and buggy as these cable controls do not have a good history of reliability. But we may need to investigate the buggy brakes to ensure the can overpower the horses.

          I'm not sure what happened in your bucking Bronco but O2 sensors do not control throttle position, worst case scenario would be an oscillating idle RPM as the computer adjusted fuel mixture from lean to rich. As long as your not touching the accelerator its not going to accelerate uncontrollably and will simply run like shit.

          • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Amouth (879122) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:42PM (#30974118)
            I'd have to say your references to "stuck" or "fraying" cables is heavily due to cost cutting - I've never seen one get stuck on older cars. - I've seen them fray and fail but in each case the linkage was designed so it drops the motor to idle. yes i don't have anything to reference on this other than the years of working with them - the traditional accelerator cable is a bicycle cable - something that can fail yes - something that should be checked yes - something that fails in design to justify a recall?? no - unless they are built wrong.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ZorbaTHut (126196)

              Of course, you can say the same thing about electronic interconnects, considering that they seem to work just peachy fine on semi trucks and airplanes.

            • Re:Safety Critical (Score:4, Insightful)

              by ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:58PM (#30974840)

              unless they are built wrong.

              Which is the whole point. There is a right way and a wrong way to build a mechanical throttle assembly and cable. There are also right and wrong ways to build electronic throttles. Either system can be perfectly safe if designed and manufactured with proper tolerances.

    • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:32PM (#30973278)

      the person didn't know how to turn the car off because it was a rental and used a push-button ignition

      The problem with any tech is that it's nearly impossible to make it perfect. In some situations like airbags, you can make the system very simple and independent, so it's not prone to failure. But when there are scenarios that result in death, you need to be able to *shut it down* very quickly. In a car, that means literally turning the engine off.

      If you can't do that in the car in question, that's insane. If it's not obvious to do so, it only highlights the life-or-death importance of good interface design, which on most cars seems to be outrageously awful. You should not reasonably have to open a manual to change the fucking clock.

    • Re:Safety Critical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:32PM (#30973288) Homepage Journal

      I'm sure push button transmissions could be done correctly. The problem isn't with the tech, the problem is with standardization. The way things are now is that you can get into just about any car and the shifting will be very, very similar. When you are under pressure you will react the way you've done things the previous thousand times, so having transmission shifters standardized is a kind of safety feature. It would be a big shift (heh) to get everybody to be used to a new way of doing this very basic thing. Would it be worth it?

    • by reporter (666905) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:55PM (#30973564) Homepage
      The latest defect in Toyota cars is quickly developing into the scandal of the 21st century. The problem started when customers of Toyota vehicles began experiencing sudden unexplained acceleration; these incidents began appearing in 2002. Over time, Toyota management claimed that the problem is the floor mat. So, the management issued a recall to replace all the floor mats.

      Then, after further studying the problem, the management claimed that the throttle's pedal sometimes becomes stuck due to weather conditions. This new claim lead to the massive global recall of many vehicles sold over the past 3 years.

      However, none of these explanations for the sudden acceleration has been satisfactory. Independent investigations leading to an explosion of lawsuits have determined that the problem is the electronic throttle control (ETC) — the so-called drive-by-wire mechanism that links the pedal via some cables to the fuel controller. According to a report [businessweek.com] by "Businessweek" and another report [wsj.com] by the "Wall Street Journal", Toyota is now the defendant in 3 separate class-action lawsuits. The plaintiffs claim that the ETC is defective.

      According to a report [nytimes.com] by the "New York Times" (NYT), "a few years ago, the company sent out a technical bulletin saying some cars accelerate on their own between 38 and 42 mph, and it reprogrammed the electronics with new software codes".

      The NYT notes, "John Heywood, director of the Sloan Automotive Lab at MIT, said because Toyota is the only automaker having this problem, it could be something specific to its design, such as the location and integration of the electronics relay sensor."

      Further, the Toyota ETC lacks an important safety mechanism: if the customer presses both the throttle pedal and the brake pedal, then the ETC should give priority to the brake. The Toyota ETC gives priority to the throttle. How can Toyota engineers commit such a gross design mistake? Common sense tells us that the brake should receive priority.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        Regardless of which is given priority... I'll bet those cars are real fun to drive on glare ice, where you may need to be constantly nursing both the brake AND the throttle, to maintain traction and control direction.

  • by statusbar (314703) <jeffk@statusbar.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:24PM (#30973210) Homepage Journal

    I design computer hardware and software and I always tell people:

    DON'T TRUST COMPUTERS

    But No On Believes Me...

    --jeffk++

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jernejk (984031)
      Yeah, that's why I'm always a bit nervous when flying with airbus.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268)

        At least an Airbus is a $100 million dollar aircraft, so it's much more likely they did some decent design and testing, plus there's a lot of redundancy in those fly-by-wire aircraft. Your car, OTOH, is designed to be as CHEAP to manufacture as possible. There's no redundancy there.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:27PM (#30973224) Journal

    Summary is stupid because there's no hoses and hydraulics in any car throttle system I've seen; if it's not electronic, it's a very simple and reliable steel cable.

    Story is stupid because as it admits, the electronics had nothing to do with the problem; the failure was mechanical. The exact same thing could have happened to a cable-operated system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Most throttles are a simple cable system (or, at least, they used to be). Such a system doesn't break often and, when it does break, seems to be a gradual thing. I don't personally see much of a need to change things from such a simple mechanism: it works, and rarely breaks. Added complexity introduces many additional failure points. The failure being solely mechanical still likely points to either a drastic re-engineering to account for the electronics, or an electronics-induced mechanical failure. Cable t

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sarhjinian (94086)

        Most throttles are a simple cable system (or, at least, they used to be). Such a system doesn't break often and, when it does break, seems to be a gradual thing.

        Not true. Mechanical throttles will (and do) stick suddenly, and do so with far more regularity that electronic throttles. A few posts up in this discussion is a myriad of recalls for just that for the last decade or two alone, and believe me there were more. Do you want to go back to the days of stuck throttles, carbs and cabling?

        A throttle real

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iggymanz (596061)

      victims report out of control acceleration where even pressing the brake harder merely mades engine ECM increase engine power, and can't merely move selector to neutral either (have to press brake in their stupid design). Problem is clearly circuitry or software failure, nothing to do with their bullshit gas pedal or floor mat nonsense. And gas pedal now only controls air intake, the computer controls fuel, not your daddy's cable pulled throttle.

  • Misleading story... (Score:5, Informative)

    by CyberBill (526285) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:27PM (#30973226)
    By all accounts I can find, the issue with the Toyota's sticky gas pedal is a MECHANICAL one - not some electrical bug.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arb phd slp (1144717)

      Just because that's what Toyota is focusing on, doesn't mean that's what's actually wrong. They were all about floor mats previously.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bcrowell (177657)

      By all accounts I can find, the issue with the Toyota's sticky gas pedal is a MECHANICAL one - not some electrical bug.

      This article [latimes.com] in the LA Times says a lot of knowledgeable people don't believe that. E.g., "A wide group of national automotive experts say there is strong evidence that a hidden electronic problem must account for at least some, if not most, of the Toyota sudden-acceleration events."

      We have a Prius, and the electronic stuff does not inspire my confidence. It's a really crappy, poorly de

  • by Fahrvergnuugen (700293) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:27PM (#30973228) Homepage

    According to AutoBlog [autoblog.com], the problem with these Toyotas is a mechanical part in the drive by wire pedal assembly (and so it's not really an issue with the car being drive by wire). The pivot point that the pedal rotates on has a bushing that is apparently wearing out and causing the pedal stick. I'm a little skeptical as it seems much more plausible that it would be an electrical (or software) gremlin, but that's apparently what they're blaming it on.

    There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nurb432 (527695)

      There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

      So you have never 'power braked' as a kid to impress the girls i take it.

    • by SydShamino (547793) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:39PM (#30973370)

      There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously. All drive by wire VW/Audis are setup this way.

      Plus this would solve the problem of the drivers that like to ride with their left foot on the brake pedal - accelerating with their brakes on, cruising with their brakes on, braking with their brakes on (but who can tell?).

      Just need to solve hills where the driver may need throttle and brake simultaneously to start moving, and it should work.

    • by sjames (1099) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:40PM (#30973376) Homepage

      Before that, they claimed it was the floormat, even though at least one credible incident report was for a car where the floormats were removed.

      Now they claim the pedal sticks down in spite of the reports including cases where the car takes off while at highway speed or while stopped. A sticky pedal cannot explain sudden acceleration, only a failure to stop accelerating.

      They seem to be dodging the issue of the car refusing to shift into neutral while at speed even though restoring that simple bit of functionality would greatly improve safety. The controller should really take the hint and digore the accelerator at that point.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by micheas (231635)

      There is still no excuse for Toyota not coding the ECU to cut throttle when it senses that the driver has BOTH the throttle and the brakes on simultaneously.

      Steps for starting a manual transmission car pointed up a steep grade:

      1. Press brake pedal Hard
      2. Release Parking Brake
      3. Depress Clutch
      4. Start Engine
      5. Depress throttle without releasing the brake (Heal on break, toes on throttle)
      6. Release Clutch and break smothly so the car does not roll backwards.

      Do you see the problem with your solution?

      The real world is messy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vux984 (928602)

        Steps for starting a manual transmission car pointed up a steep grade:

        These are not a manual transmission cars.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bhalter80 (916317)
      I call schinanigans on this, I have a 6spd VW and trust me it doesn't prevent you from using the throttle and brake at the same time
  • What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RockMFR (1022315) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:32PM (#30973276)
    Title: "Electronics parts = Toyota woes"
    Article: "condensation from heaters caused increased friction in the gas pedal, making it stick in some cases, making the problem a mechanical one and not an issue of electronics."

    So electronics had nothing to do with it at all. And their suggestion that the complexity of electronics made this issue harder to diagnose isn't backed up at all.
  • by jo7hs2 (884069) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:32PM (#30973290) Homepage
    It doesn't matter to me if the issue is electronic or mechanical, I want a mechanical peddle pair and a mechanical key switch. I want to be able to kill the machine if I have to, and not rely on the electronics to behave appropriately when malfunctioning. How many press down to turn off power systems have you encountered that failed to turn off after a crash? I've certainly encountered my share of them.
  • Moving too fast (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:35PM (#30973326)

    This is really a case of technology moving too fast for its own good.

    The fundamental concept behind Japan's quality is kaizen. This is the constant improvement on existing techniques and technology. By starting with what works, it is simpler to build in very small steps without losing any quality along the way.

    However, due to perceived pressures from non-Japanese automakers, companies like Toyota have begun bold initiatives to modernize their cars. The typical automotive embedded system is fairly simple (relatively speaking, of course). There are only a few inputs and only a few outputs and the systems are usually isolated from each other. However, as more features become desired, more interaction between isolated systems becomes a reality. The gas pedal used to only manage the amount of fuel fed to the injection valves. Nowadays it works in tandem with the brake system and suspension to manage tire slippage and traction control.

    In this case, Toyota implemented a very complex system without a series of solid intermediate steps. The result is catastrophic failure when unforeseen interactions suddenly arise. If they were slowly adding features, they could immediately pinpoint the problematic interaction. However because they did it all at once they don't have any idea where the problem lies.

    It makes me want to buy an American car.

    • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @09:58PM (#30976458)

      Where's the bad analogy? I feel cheated.

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:42PM (#30973384) Homepage Journal

    This kind of stuff is par for the course if you own a Chrysler. Last year my PT Cruiser decided to get stuck with the throttle about 1/3rd down. It was really fun to park that way (a terrifying sort of fun). Chryslers are famous for bursting into flames, having brakes fail for no reason (which is what the emergency brake is for), and numerous other problems that normal people would consider to be a safety hazard.

    When my car got stuck, sure it was a little surprising at first, hard to slow down for the turn I already committed myself to (stood with my full weight on the brake) but after that I put it in neutral (it is an automatic, they have an N position) and when the motor started revving like crazy I just turned off my engine (careful to only click once so the steering wheel lock isn't activated), flipped on my hazard lights and coasted to a place where I could pull over conveniently.

    What I don't understand is how I can figure this out, but a CHP officer kills his family in a 100mph crash from the same sort of problem? Yes, he got going that fast, without ever thinking about just turning the damn thing off. California's finest indeed, it's sad because the CHP are held up as experts in driving and safety.

    If people aren't able to deduce what they are supposed to do in an emergency on their own in a timely matter, then we must make safety training mandatory for all drivers. It should go into what to do if your brakes don't work, accellerator gets stuck, car catches on fire, car rolls over and you're trapped, and the thousand other things that can happen to you in a car. And there should be a test, it should be a hard test, and you should get an insurance discount if you score over 90%. And you get the opportunity to retake it once a year, but your best score is good forever.

    • by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:54PM (#30973558)

      What I don't understand is how I can figure this out, but a CHP officer kills his family in a 100mph crash from the same sort of problem? Yes, he got going that fast, without ever thinking about just turning the damn thing off.

      Uh, these stupid push-button starter gadgets are designed to prevent you from accidentally turning them off because that would be 'dangerous'. In this case I believe you have to hold the button in for a few seconds to turn off the engine, and if you just got in the car and don't realise then you might well assume that the starter is broken too.

      So as I understand it the problem was not just a hardware/software fault, but a hardware/software fault combined with user-unfriendly non-standard design which made the normal responses far more difficult than they should have been.

      • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:50PM (#30974208)

        Uh, these stupid push-button starter gadgets are designed to prevent you from accidentally turning them off because that would be 'dangerous'. In this case I believe you have to hold the button in for a few seconds to turn off the engine, and if you just got in the car and don't realise then you might well assume that the starter is broken too.

        Shifting to neutral can be done at anytime, is not software controlled, and by US law has to physically disconnect the motor/engine from the wheels.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tacvek (948259)

          Is that actually the case? Some other posts mentioned one incident with push button transmission control that allegedly stopped working when the ECU crashed. That would make shifting into neutral impossible if it was actually the case. I am far from familiar enough with the automobile in question, or vehicle regulations to know if you or the other person are mistaken, or if you both are correct and the car violates regulation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      According to the sibling posts it's because his car didn't allow him to shift into neutral while at speed, which means if the brake doesn't override the suddenly stuck gas pedal and the push-button power switch doesn't want to turn off (just like my computer when it hangs...) he's fucked.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:18PM (#30974498)

      Before you go bashing the intelligence of the driver you should be aware of some issues.

      First, the car was a rental so the driver wasn't familiar with some non-standard features of the car.

      Second, the car did not have the standard key ignition switch. It has a push button on the dash that turns the engine on or off. But more importantly, when in motion the operation of the button changes. When stopped, you simply press the button and the engine turns off. But when in motion, you must hold the button down continuously for three seconds in order to turn off the engine. Presumably this is to prevent turning off the engine accidentally while driving. This three-second delay doesn't normally occur so only someone who has read the 200 page manual would know that. I imagine that in a panic situation you would press the button two or three times and then give up.

      Third, the automatic transmission has a sport shifter feature. You can move the shifter in a position through a gate so that when you press forward the transmission up-shifts and when you press backward it downshifts. You cannot directly push the shifter into neutral. You have to move the shifter sideways and then up several notches to get to neutral. In an unfamiliar car and a panic situation you would try to push the shifter into neutral like most cars. Instead pushing it forward would just up-shift to a higher gear. In a panic situation, going 120 mph, it might be difficult to figure out how this non-standard transmission works -- that you have to move the shifter sideways through a gate to get to neutral.

  • by rossdee (243626) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @04:43PM (#30973398)

    Back in my day, cars had a 3rd pedal on the floor called the clutch. If your throttle got stuck you could hit the clutch pedal and cut the power to the transmission.

    • by markdavis (642305) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:33PM (#30974008)

      And a nearly exact same function is available in an automatic- it is called PUT THE TRANSMISSION IN NEUTRAL!!

      Options:

      1) Neutral (I have yet to see a car without one)
      2) Brakes (which will fade if not applied hard and soon enough)
      3) Emergency/Parking brakes (not very powerful, but helps)
      4) Cut ignition (on some cars- must be in neutral first)

      I am sorry, but I simply *refuse* to believe that all 4 options were unavailable to the people having major run-away car problems from what was most probably a mechanical problem with the throttle pedal.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      Is Germany, only pussies drive automatic cars. And we laugh at them. They’re for people who can’t drive.
      Really. Automatic cars are the exception here. And for good reasons.
      Try playing Richard Burns Rally with automatic gear shifting, and you will see them. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151)

        The German solution we should copy is a real driving test. In the US, one has to be mentally defective not to be issued a license, driver/rider training sucks, and the result is deadly.

        I could care less about manual boxes. I have both, but autos suit the way I use my larger trucks.

  • by AbRASiON (589899) * on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:29PM (#30973960) Journal

    Un-necessarily complex, I spent 5 to 10 minutes reading the manual and could NOT figure out how to make it move.
    I'm not joking, this was a fleet car for work and I simply couldn't make it move, at all. I'm a geek but it just didn't make any sense to me, engine was going but it wouldn't move.
    Turns out they use a 'pedal based' handbrake (Americans might call it park brake?) I've never encountered this in 30 years previously, long story short I ended up speaking to the fleet management people and ended up with a Ford stationwagon ( "It just works" ) for the morning, didn't find out about the pedal and how it works until I got back from the trip. (FWIW I really did want to try the Prius too)

  • by JakFrost (139885) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @05:41PM (#30974110)

    This is a worthless story trying to bash electronics for a mechanical failure, and even the story admits that the electronics are not the problem in this specific case. What a load of hogwash. The article doesn't even mention or link to the real source of the problem and it fails to provide additional sources of information for people who might be affected. Someone's got to kick timothy in the ass for getting this dribble posted on the front page. At least post a story about a real electronics's failure causing serious problems such as the O2 sensor issue that the poster above mentioned, now that's a scary situation.

    Our New Car

    I just bought a 2010 Toyota Camry LE 2.5L I4 6-speed Automatic [edmunds.com] with EX (Upgraded Radio) and QA (Aluminum Wheels) as a first car for my wife and I as we have just moved across the country to a new city. This was the choice after a lot of researching and test driving of other vehicles and then eliminating them based on real cost of ownership, fuel efficiency, components used, safety ratings, the quality of built, the comfort of the ride, and the headaches or having to deal with the specific sales people (Honda, I'm looking at you!).

    Just to make it clear that I'm not a Toyota fan boy and I am not a car person at all since don't find cars "sexy" and I was perfectly happy with my old 1994 Chrysler. This new car is not the perfect vehicle for us, it was just the best in the class for the price. There are some deficiencies in the car, such as the trip computer not showing you fuel efficiency ratings, the quality of the construction in the plastic covering under the engine, cheap plywood backing covering the spare tire in the trunk, and louder than normal wind noise coming from the front roof support posts and root during 80 mpg highway driving speeds, a cup holder divider that comes out anytime you take a cup out of it, and probably a bunch of other issues that we'll find out after more than 4-weeks of owning it.

    This recall does not really trouble us since it is mentioned that the issue is rare, it only happens in cars sued for a while already, there is a environmental and humidity aspect to the problem with regards to condensation, and the cause is a gradual wearing down of a bushing that causes additional friction preventing the accelerator pedal from returning back to the home position that happens overtime and is noticeable with a pedal that starts becoming slow to return.

    Our car was just manufactured in 2009-11 in Kentucky and I'll be checking the information below today on the weekend to see if our pedal is in the recall or not, most likely it it because it most likely has the CTS manufactured part. I'll call the dealer and arrange for a replacement in a few weeks while after they get a handle on all the people that are coming to them now. No rush on this. I've also instructed my wife on how to resolve this problem if it does occur to her when she's driving by hitting the breaks and shifting into neutral gear, then turning the ignition off when she's safely off the road.

    Below is some real information about this recall.

    Toyota.com - Latest News About Toyota's Safety Recall Campaign [toyota.com]

    1. Is my car safe to drive until a fix is issued?

    The condition is rare and generally does not occur suddenly. It seems to occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.

    3. What is the actual issue affecting accelerator pedals?

    In rare instances, there is a possibility that the affected accelerator pedal may stick in a partially downward position or slowly return to the non-pressed position.

    4. Is there actually a problem with the vehicle's compu

    • by BitZtream (692029) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @07:47PM (#30975278)

      You didn't do much research. Toyota has been having this problem for several years now, its been in the news several times, it has not been fixed, and they keep coming up with new excuses for the problem.

      They don't know, or don't want to admit to it.

      Either way, you're an idiot for trusting them to tell you its safe to drive your car. It doesn't matter how rare it is, its JUST as likely to happen to you as it is every owner. They haven't told the truth or have had no clue what the problem is for several years. Trusting them is about as intelligent as trusting a politician at this point.

  • by pipedwho (1174327) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:18PM (#30974502)

    This article (happened in Australia - linked related articles contain more information): http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/12/16/2773868.htm [abc.net.au]

    describes a problem with a Ford Territory getting stuck with the cruise control actively trying to keep the vehicle at 100km/hr.

    A couple of things to answer the 'this guy was idiot, I'm so clever it wouldn't have happened to me' crowd:

    1. He couldn't turn off the ignition as the car won't let you do that if the car is moving.

    2. He couldn't shift to neutral because the car wouldn't let him push the shift release button. (It was an automatic, so no clutch pedal.)

    3. Pushing the brake wasn't helping enough to stop the car. (In the end it worked, but he had to jump on it with both feet all his adrenaline fuelled strength while pulling as hard as he could on the handbrake.)

    4. The accelerator pedal only worked to speed him up, It wasn't a pedal 'sticking to the mat' issue, as the car was holding itself exactly to the speed of the cruise control.

    5. The car was going too fast to just ram into a barrier or tree, etc.

    6. The guy called Ford Australia (on his mobile phone), who couldn't help him and put him on hold. So then he called the police who, to their credit, cleared the road ahead and kept him calm enough to eventually get the car to stop. The total ordeal lasted 50 minutes.

    7. The recording of the police call was released and played on the news and it was pretty obvious that both the guy and the police were doing everything to get the car to stop. This was not a situation where a quick two second phone call to a know-it-all Slashdotter would have solved the problem.

    Anyway, I can't believe this news didn't make Slashdot when it happened a couple of months ago, as it contains considerably more information than the usual fare on this topic.

  • by ChangeOnInstall (589099) on Sunday January 31, 2010 @06:41PM (#30974688)

    This may well be speculative crap, but at least based on the anecdotal incidents I keep hearing about, this sounds like an ECM problem.

    First Toyota blamed floor mats. That immediately causes consumers to think that the problem was the fault of idiot drivers, not Toyota itself. The typical person's reaction would rightfully be something along the lines of "duh, if you stack floormats under the accelerator, it's going to stick...this is not Toyota's fault".

    Now Toyota blames the pedal. And the pedal manufacturer. Again a simple system that people understand...that can be labeled as obviously defective and replaced with something theoretically not defective, bringing about peace of mind.

    Finally Toyota is going to "go the extra mile" and update the ECMs to cause pressing the brake to cut the throttle. I imagine this is an algorithmic (code) change to the ECM, not just new calibrations. Apparently Toyota uses a proprietary ECM that is not very "hackable". That is, it's very closed in comparison to items like those in GMs and VW/Audis where there are cottage industries of tinkerers who have decompiled the code, modified calibrations for performance and economy, and even modified the algorithms themselves. (You don't see things like VAGCOM or EFILive for Toyotas.)

    Point being, if they update the ECM and it is all proprietary stuff and there's no easy way to diff it (or an adequate number of eyes to catch the difference) they can fix the problem and scapegoat the pedal manufacturer. And potentially leave a lot of dangerous vehicles on the road to save face.

    The biggest hole I can find in this idea is where I'm getting my data. Random reports from people, a lot of whom seem to claim their vehicles accelerated from a stop. And of course it's all stuff reported by the popular news media. And of course a lot of folks who rear-ended someone in their Toyota are going to suggest anything other than their own actions being the cause.

    But being a software developer, the more I hear about this, the more it stinks of software. An ECM has too many variables to simulate all possible conditions, so you must rely on the algorithms to work correctly. My gut says there's a tiny hole in there somewhere, where most users will never encounter it.

    • I'm also a software developer, and an owner of a Camry 2009. I suspect a software or computer glitch is the root cause. I've experienced unintended acceleration in my Camry twice while I was cruising on a flat straight road going about 38MPH. Both my feet were completely motionless both times it happened. While my right foot was steady on the accelerator, the car just sped up (by about 1 to 2MPH/second) for about 2.5 seconds. I was like WTF was that!?!?! So far, I've only had it happen a few times, but I know it wasn't caused by the fricking floor mat. Last year when I heard Toyota blame it on the floor mat I got so upset because, based on my experience, I knew it wasn't caused by the floor mat. I don't know why Toyota is so reluctant to audit their computer hardware/software. Toyota should be forced to release all the code that is in any way/shape/form connected to the throttle and accelerator pedal for public scrutiny. It will cost them essentially nothing to post the code on their website, so there is no reason not to do this. Since buggy code could jeopardize the safety of the public, the code should be publicly available. Read my post from last year about this here: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1430048&cid=29976746&art_pos=18 [slashdot.org] My guess is that is probably some stupid divide by zero or integer overflow glitch.

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