Somebody Should Write About This...

Years ago, I wrote a novel (still available at Amazon!) wherein a key plot point was a conspiracy between a Senator, a law firm, and a media company to create a high-profile tort case out of thin air.

Today, we may be seeing something similar with the Toyota sudden acceleration case.  In this case, we have the Senate calling stooges of the plaintiff's bar as "expert witnesses" with the whole thing getting a third of the air time on nightly news programs.   In my book, the whole thing was kicked off by a media company afraid of a new competitor - in this case it was kicked off by the US government, which controls GM, trying to sit on a competitor.

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove - and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

Henry Payne has more.


  1. Evil Red Scandi:

    The thing that gets me is that the exact same alleged software failure occurs in such a tiny percentage of vehicles without (as far as I know) it being tightly associated with a very specific year or feature package. It's not impossible, but it's extremely improbable. Odds are this is the Audi debacle all over again where "pedal misapplication" was the problem.

    Of course, it doesn't help that I mentally put an "I'm an obnoxious, self-important idiot" bumper sticker on every Prius that I see (right next to the Obama/Biden one).

  2. Mark:

    The ABC car modification is par for the course for news groups.

    Remember 60 minutes drilled holes in the Audi transmission to simulate runaway acceleration. The investigations eventually showed all cases were driver error - but the gas and brake might be a bit to close.

    Remember NBC had to put explosives in the GM truck to show an explosion on a side impact. GM searched for the truck found it and proved explosives were used.

    Meanwhile the word is out and everyone is scared, and we assume there is a design problem, when in reality it is minor or does not exist.

  3. Michael not Mann:

    With out seeing one of these vehicles I'm not going to speculate on the cause of the problem. But I'm curious why the move was made to have electronics control the throttle. That's one area of a car I'd want to keep simple.

  4. T M Colon:

    I had my own experience with sudden acceleration years ago, in a 1963 Chevy van. Briefly, the bolts holding the x-member under the transmission broke. The tranny dropped pitching the engine up which jammed the accelerator open. The van took off, I jammed on the brakes valiantly steering to avoid other cars. Soon enough the braking stalled the engine. It was pretty harrowing and in my panic I didn't simply shift to neutral. Still, it was over pretty quickly.

    I suppose I should have sued GM for making a faulty vehicle where this could happen. Then again, the van was 20 years old. Perhaps I should have sued the local road authorities for salting the roads in winter which caused the bolts to rust.

    I'll call ABC and see if they can help. 30 years isn't than long ago, is it?

  5. Terrence:

    I heard about some risible loser in California (must be LA), who is suing Toyota because his precious PIOUS (Prius) has lost resale value because of its potential to have run-away acceleration. Not that it will have run-away acceleration, but that it MIGHT. The poor loser no longer enjoys driving his Pious, nor does his wife, so he must get buckets of money from Toyota

  6. Michael not Mann:

    We have that here in Cincinnati too. A class suit for loss of value.

  7. Jimbeaux:

    With all the negative press against Toyota, I'm sure their sales have dropped. Since I'm in the market for a new car, this has me thinking that now might be the best time to buy a new Toyota.

  8. LoneSnark:

    Oddly enough, Michael not Mann, I would want them to go electronics on the throttle because I'm sick and tired of my old car's throttle cable getting stuck! Old cars had this problem in spades, needlessly, as simple rust could cause the throttle cable to become too sticky for the spring to push the pedal back up. My cousin used to drive his old Thunderbird barefoot so he could use his toes to pull the gas pedal back up.

    True, car manufacturers built cars under the assumption that throttle cables would malfunction, so they put beefy springs into the pedal to compensate. These springs were also strong enough to overcome any other resistance, including floor mats getting stuck in the way. When manufacturers went electronic, they used smaller springs so the pedal was easier to operate...which made them susceptible to attack from floor mats and debris. No big deal, we should keep the electronics but put in bigger springs. Case closed.

  9. Evil Red Scandi:

    @Michael not Mann - Gee, I wonder how you have a mechanical throttle without any electronics control an (at least partially) electric car? Why do people keep asking this question? It makes my brain hurt.

    @T M Colon - That's actually the most plausible sudden acceleration story I've ever heard :-)

  10. Charlie B:

    Michael not Mann:But I’m curious why the move was made to have electronics control the throttle.

    The only way to meet emissions and mileage standards is a computerized engine controller. The accelerator pedal is just a computer mouse you push with your foot.

  11. Rick:

    I had a harrowing situation occur yesterday. I was mowing the grass on my rider when the throttle stuck wide open! I was powerless in the face of the menacing mower! Before it was over I had mowed 3 of the neighbor's yards and a quarter mile of road shoulder. Fortunately a professional landscaper was working next door, pulled his mower in front of mine and brought me to a stop.

  12. Anon:

    I agree 100% that so far this whole thing is bogus, but I am skeptical the US government is behind it.

  13. Mesa Econoguy:

    Has anyone identified an actual bona fide problem? If so, what is it?

    And I believe NBC did suffer consequences (can’t remember what) for their bogus Dateline report.

    This does smell of Gov’t Motors strongarming, but the Japanese are hyperapologetic (Ray LaHood & Obamalini know this) so they’re playing along, and only recently defending themselves.

  14. Mike:

    The old thing has been fishy to me from the start. Notice how Toyota beat GM as number one in 2008? Now the government has a stake in GM, and now these "problems" are coming to light. I know many newer cars have push button start, but can the engine be shut off while the vehicle is in motion?

    This is a test I want to try on our 2005 Chevy van. Empty road, about 30 miles per hour. I bet the engine shuts off, and I can coast to a stop. It does have power steering and power brakes, but there should be no reason I can't bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

    What gets me is these victims seem to drive for miles unable to slow down their vehicles. I'd saw the panic would end after about 30 seconds.

    In addition, why do they say it's "sudden acceleration". The different terminology that is being thrown around is confusing me. If you punch the gas, then release, I wouldn't call that "sudden acceleration". However, if you're going along at 40 MPH, and suddenly, the engine revs up, I WOULD call that sudden acceleration.

  15. txjim:

    Risk said: I was mowing the grass on my rider when the throttle stuck wide open!


    Another case of tender Gia-carpet sacrificed upon the altar of Big Gardening!

  16. Michael not Mann:

    @Evil Red Scandi. Were talking about gas driven cars here, not some Prius utopia.

    That said, I've seen push - pull throttle cable designs that can close the butterfly valve. It's not rocket science. I'd like to see more behind the idea of having the brake petal disable the throttle but this is probably only going to be relevant to drive by wire systems.

    I understand Charlie B point that an electronic throttle can help micromanage mileage but seems like over kill on emissions. I had a 91 bike that could run at 14,000 rpms and map the timing on the crank each revolution. Today's computers could map each cylinder's emissions in an engine without the need for an electronic throttle.

    Not being blinded by AGW, I pull most of the emissions crap from under the hood when I buy a car. I like my engines to preform, not hug trees. Plus once I yank the emission controls, I end up with better mileage.

  17. Mark:

    I have had two cases of sudden acceleration in my life. Both were in my 1971 VW bug. first time there was a bar which held the pedal in place and it slipped partially out, so it caused the pedal to stick down. I reached down and pulled up the pedal. I fixed the broken clip on the bar.

    The second time I was teaching my brother how to drive stick. We were in a parking lot and he thought he hit the brake but was actually on the gas, when the "brake" didn't work he pushed harder. I tried to pull the manual shift out of gear, but at full throttle it wouldn't disengage. Seconds before flying over a cliff I convinced my brother to lift his feet up in the air and I stopped the car with the hand brake and by pulling out of gear.

    It happens.

  18. Ron H.:

    @Michael not Mann

    I'm surprised to hear that you remove emission controls from the cars that you buy, unless they are cars from the 1970s or 80s. Emission controls in earlier years did indeed detrimentally effect engine power and gas mileage, but those days are long.

    Cars sold in the US since 1996 have a computerized engine control system that is no longer your enemy, but is now your friend. Modern engine control systems use a variety inputs to get an optimum balance of power, gas mileage, and low emissions, depending on what you are asking for with your foot. Once your engine is up to operating temperature, the computer enters a "closed loop" operating mode that allows it to monitor each cylinders performance and adjust each cylinders fuel mixture and spark timing for optimum performance.

    By removing some of the necessary controls, the computer assumes the engine has just been started. In effect, you are driving your car with the choke on all the time. I'm having trouble believing you get either more power, or better mileage in this condition.

  19. Michael not Mann:

    I don't remove the whole emission system. The car won't run. But anything before the intake air flow sensor can be removed. The evaporation canister system is a joke. Blocking the EGR system keeps the fuel injectors and intake valves clean. Dumping the stock muffler for a free flow muffler is a good idea.

    Toyota likely got in to trouble trying to meet government regulations and then tried to up mileage by having electronics micromanage the butterfly valve.

    The feel good regulators have put requirements on auto manufactures that hurt mileage and emissions. They might look good in theory or when the car is new, but after a few thousand miles, they become a liability.

    I've built racing motorcycles from the ground up. I'm not a novice. I've made changes to both foreign and domestics cars by getting rid of the crap government forces on them to up mileage.

  20. Ron H.:


    You are certainly right about the air intake components, as these are mostly intended to reduce intake air noise. The free flow muffler can help your high end, but most of the restriction in the exhaust system is from the cats, not the muffler. You didn't mention whether or not you remove them.

    The evap system, while silly, has no effect on performance or mileage. It just helps keep gas vapors from escaping into the air. If it had ANY effect, it should improve mileage by recycling vapors into the intake.

    The EGR system is designed to lower cylinder temperatures to allow leaner fuel mixtures at constant cruising speeds. It is closed at idle, and closes when you put your foot down. I can't imagine how blocking it helps keep valves clean, unless your exhaust is very dirty. Fuel injectors get dirty inside, from junk in the fuel, not from things going on in the cylinder.

    It is apparent that you are lucky enough live in an area that doesn't require periodic inspections, and don't mind the check engine light being on. Do you disable that also?

  21. Michael not Mann:

    I keep the cats on but I found that mufflers can be packed with fiber glass to cut down on noise or designed with harmonic chambers to cut noise but don't put back pressure on the exhaust. Replacing the exhaust headers can make a big improvement on performance but not worth the hassle on a commuting car.

    I've never had problems with temperatures by blocking the EGR but then the information I've seen was that the EGR was designed to prevent knock. I block it because I don't like having a system that causes carbon build up in my intake system.

    I never have gotten a check engine light from any changes I've made. We did have inspections, but the clowns working there were pretty much clueless about cars.

    Overall, I was doing 80 mile round trip commutes and have been able to see how change effect mileage.