Toyota Troubles

I have been very distressed by the ongoing tales of Toyota troubles. Not that I have any favour for the make, although I have rented many Toyotas in the US, as well as a Lexus. They’re OK cars, but so are lots of others. And, whilst I feel for the victims or their families, neither is their plight the source of my woe.

No, my distress has been in the apparent lack of basic skills being demonstrated. As I understand it there are two problems alleged to be at the heart of the Toyota throttle (gas/accelerator) pedal troubles. One is that the floor mat interferes with the pedal and the other is that the pedal linkage may stick.

Now over the (nearly 40) years that I’ve been driving various cars, trucks and goodness knows what else in nine countries across two continents I’ve had the floor mat problem so often I couldn’t possibly count them. It was a persistent problem on a DAF LF 7.5 tonne truck I drove regularly a couple of years back. I’d take my foot off the power and it wouldn’t slow as expected. The problem wasn’t DAF’s fault either. In the end I cured it by taking out the extra slip mat the regular driver had added, but you’ll note here that I am reporting multiple incidents with one vehicle, one that’s a fair but bigger that the average Toyota, and one I was driving in central London traffic, yet I’m still here to write about it. I didn’t have or cause an accident and I’m not trying to sue anyone.

I’ve also had the stuck pedal linkage problem a few times over the years, more so in my younger days when I was driving cars that were fugitives from the wrecker’s yard but, again, I’m still here to tell my tale. Why? Am I some sort of superman?

No. At best I’m just a driver with a bit of common sense and a strong sense of self preservation. Give me a problem in a car and all I want is a little bit of time to sort it out before I hit something, and that is often just a matter of seconds. First principles: I check my car before I drive it. One of those checks is to make sure that my floor mat is OK. Maybe not obvious, but if it gets in the way of the pedals I have a problem, and I’d rather fix a problem before I have one, hence getting rid of the extra mat in the DAF once I’d recognised that the damn thing would not stay put.

Second principles: If I don’t get the expected result when I take my foot off the gas, or I seem to be going faster than I think that I should be, then I do two things at the same time. One is to keep driving the car; look where I’m going and try not to drive into anything. At the same time I dig both heels into the floor mat and jerk my feet back. If my problem is the mat fouling the pedal this will fix it so I can pull over, stop and sort it out properly. (Another action is to hit Cancel on the cruise control). If that doesn’t work, I stick the toe of my shoe behind the pedal and pull it back. If my problem is anywhere in the foot well then that will work and, again, I pull over and stop where it is safe to do so, and either fix it or call for help.

Third principles: If that doesn’t work either then, checking around me for other vehicles, I’ll get the brakes on hard (a secondary problem with the errant floor mat is that it rucks up behind the brake pedal and restricts how far I can push it down – but if I’ve pulled the mat clear I should be fine). I’ll use both feet on the brake pedal if I have to, and I’ll put the transmission in neutral to stop the engine driving the wheels. I don’t switch the ignition off until I stop as I’ll lose my power steering and brakes (although if I’m going to hit something solid, switching off at the last second is a good idea).

Now I could have done all of the above faster than I could have made a call on my cell phone, and I would be pretty sure that I would have the vehicle stopped without too much danger to anyone else on the road, myself and any passengers.

If all of the above had failed, and I can’t see why it should, but if it had there is still the controlled crash option: I’d drive into the scenery or barrier at a shallow angle, aim for something soft, anything that’s possible. Many years ago I listened to one of the great Swedish rally drivers being interviewed. This was in an era when a rally car was the same as you or I could buy, but tuned up and with a roll cage and being driven through the forests and ice and snow or whatever at full bore and before the days of pace notes. Asked what went through his mind when approaching a blind crest in the forest at 100+mph he paused, and then he said “well, the road must go somewhere”. His premise was that there was always something that you could do to avoid an accident, but if you went off  you kept trying to get back on until you succeeded or hit something, but most times you’d work it out and avoid the accident.

Over the years I’ve had far worse things happen than a sticky throttle. I’ve four times had the bonnet (hood) come unlatched and rise up blocking my forward vision, once at 70mph on the M2 in Kent, at over 90 on the autobahn in Germany, on the way into DC from Dulles airport and, more recently, at about 50 on the old Roman road to Newbury.  Each time I got stopped with no damage to myself or anyone else.

Yes, these things get the pulse rate up a bit, but the point is that there is always something that I can do, and I’d rather be trying than dying. Stay calm, don’t panic and think about what you’re doing.

There’s an old adage that the most dangerous part in a car is the nut behind the wheel. My distress on these matters is that there seem to be far too many people out there on the road trying to kill me as it is. It’s bad enough that there are so many people driving cars who have all the spatial awareness of a stuffed wombat, but to know that there are also people riding around out there who may not even know how to stop the vehicle is just plain scary.

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