My column on "Would I let my wife and children ride in a Toyota?" generated a lot of response.
Most of it was favourable, and I thank those of you who responded thus.
But it is always more fun, and ultimately more informative, to let those who don't agree with me have their say.
Then I can also correct their wayward thinking!
One reader writes:
I cannot remember the last time I was motivated to write to any columnist.
I have always respected your opinions in the auto world. BUT your response in this morning's Toronto Star in answer to the question "would you let your wife and children ride in a Toyota"?
"Yes I would"?????
What on earth are you thinking? How much more evidence do you need than some of the recorded incidents recently revealed and Toyota's almost criminal attitude and cover up?
Jim, you are worthy of better.....take a second thought and offer a retraction. People's lives are at stake here.
The reader didn't expressly give me permission to use his name, so I won't. I simply want to address the issue he raises.
As I always have said, thousands of parts arrive from hundreds of companies in dozens of countries, to a corn field in Kentucky or a potato field in Ontario. The car maker pays some kid $14 an hour to screw them together - it's a minor miracle that they EVER work, let alone occasionally don't.
I have also said - as I did in this story - that Toyota has handled the situation badly.
That doesn't change the fact that the automobile is by far the most complicated product you own; it is by far the least expensive product you own, if measured against that level of complexity; it is BY FAR the worst-treated product you own (do you leave your Bang and Olufsen stereo out in the rain? Do you drag your Nikon camera through the mud?); and it is BY FAR the most reliable and best-warranted product you own as well.
Statistically, the chances of a Toyota owner having any of these problems is almost vanishingly small. Sure, it happens - but so do lottery winners. That doesn't make buying a lottery ticket a smart thing to do.
There are a million things happening out on our roads that are vastly more dangerous than problem Toyotas. Our court system tearing apart our Charter of Rights, for example. Impaired drivers. People who run red lights. People who STILL don't wear their seat belts. People who don't drive in the right lane. People who don't drive with their headlights on.
If we spent a tenth as much attention on these massively more critical issues as we have on Toyota, we'd all be much safer.
And yes, my daughter drives a Toyota. My wife often borrows our neighbours' Toyota.
I don't give it a second's thought.
Another reader agreed with me that Toyotas are generally reliable. He and his family have had good luck with their Camry and 4Runner; good service from their dealer too.
But he went on to add:
...[my] purpose in writing initially was the subject of 'Runaway cars' that you hear about on the news occasionally. People are panicking, putting both feet on the brakes, (?) and generally losing their cool, and their cars. They seem to forget the most basic thing to do when the engine runs away.
And that is: TURN THE KEY OFF! ... That simple act will shut down the engine right now. The ECU goes dead, the ignition goes dead, the fuel pump goes dead, the sensors go dead, everything shuts off. Then it's simple to use the engine as a brake, as well as the foot brake to bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.
I have had [one automotive] engine runaway, on a Subaru Legacy. ... I shut the
key off... and pulled [it] out, and realizing my mistake, had a mad scramble to get it back in before my steering locked up.
The engine died right now.... I was able to stop the car safely, and look into the problem. ( I still don't know, I had the car towed to the dealer.)
I have written to yours and other newspapers, as well as the CBC, and CTV telling them to pass it on to the public: "Turn the key off!"
Not one of the media has done so or even responded to my concerns.
One so called expert was on C.T.V. telling the public to: "Put the transmission in neutral, steer off the road and use the brakes, then turn off the engine." I can guess your thoughts on that one! My thoughts go along the line of 'What is this guy drinking???'
Well, "this guy" suggesting you select neutral was probably me, and the strongest thing I drink is Perrier.
Because that is EXACTLY what you should do if your engine starts to race.
Virtually every car expert agrees on this - I have pointed out various web sites that offer the same suggestion in this blog before, if you don't believe me.
DO NOT - I REPEAT, DO NOT - TURN OFF THE KEY!
Turning off the key not only runs the very real and hyper-dangerous risk of locking your steering - as this reader already knows! - but by shutting the engine (ECU, fuel pump, sensors, etc.) off you also lose power assist to the brakes or steering, both of which make it very difficult to bring the car under control.
And because most cars these days are automatics there would be little or no engine braking to speak of even if the engine were shut off.
There is absolutely NO downside to selecting neutral. Sure, the engine will rev like crazy, but virtually all car engines these days have rev limiters; it'll get noisy but it won't damage the engine. Once you get the car safely off on the side of the road (four-way flashers on please!) then and ONLY then should you switch off the engine.
I have indeed passed this information on, to various TV and radio stations (including the CBC and CTV), I've reported it in the print edition of Wheels, here in my blog, and in a special video clip we ran on The Star's website, using the very same Toyota Matrix which experienced one of the 'sticky accelerator pedal' situations - it caused an 82-year old woman to crash into a pile of firewood at her local supermarket. Before anyone blames it on her age, she had complained to her dealership several times about this problem, and they told her nothing was wrong, it was 'normal', it was just her getting used to her new car. In this instance it happened at precisely the wrong time, just as she was pulling in to a parking space, and caught her unaware. She did not have time to react in any way, and probably under the same circumstances, neither would any of us.
So it DOES happen. All we need do is teach people how to react properly if it does, and I hope this reader - and all of you! - you will now join me in spreading the correct gospel!
As noted, this reader and his family have had good luck with your Toyotas. As my story suggests, most people have. But like all car companies, they have had their issues, and it seems there's been a slew of them recently. That, plus the cumulative effect (and the ambulance chaser effect!) have made it seem worse than it really is.
That said, one of my auto journalist colleagues actually had one of the very FIRST known instances of a Prius 'running away'. I believe it was the second-generation car, maybe even the first - it was quite some time ago, but he just told me about it last week. He had his feet clear of both pedals, no floor mat interference - the engine just revved away on its own. He managed to bring the car to a stop, and shut it off. He restarted it, but neither he nor Toyota Canada could ever replicate the scenario. But I have no reason to doubt him; he's a pretty serious knowledgeable 'car guy'.
And I personally know only three people who have owned Toyota Sienna minivans, yet ALL THREE have had their engines blow up at around 60,000 km. There is a well-known sludge build-up problem with this engine which seems to manifest itself more frequently in the Sienna than in other applications (I think this is basically the same engine as in this reader's 4Runner, but of course it is transverse-mounted and front-wheel drive in the Sienna.) The problem is apparently often traced to less-than-religious changing of the oil, and hence is probably to some degree the customers' fault. But North Americans in particular have gotten used to their engines surviving indifferent maintenance, and especially with a company with Toyota's reputation, they probably think they're OK - and they aren't.
So, we should maintain our cars, enjoy them when they work as the should, and always be prepared in case sometimes they don't!
And remember; as Honda's recent brake recall indicates, "All Mothers do have 'em!"