General Question

filmfann's avatar

When a Toyota begins speeding up, due to malfunction, why don't people just turn off the engine?

Asked by filmfann (45416points) March 9th, 2010

It happened again today. A guy calls 911, and says his Toyota Prius accellerated out of control, and he can’t stop it.
He stood on the brakes, and began burning them. After 20 miles at top speed, he engaged the parking brake, while a policecar on his front bumper tried to slow him down.
Is there a reason people don’t just turn the key, and shut off the engine? Does the car’s design stop you from doing this?

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32 Answers

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Why is shifting into neutral never an option?
I suspect panic.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’ve been asking myself that question.

Dog's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy That is exactly what I have been wondering. Neutral- so easy.

filmfann's avatar

Shifting into neutral would burn up the engine in seconds.
I assume people want to keep their cars.

Dog's avatar

@filmfann from neutral to shut down. Better dead engine than dead driver. Just sayin’

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

They have insurance for situations like those.

I find it remarkable this guy has the wherewithall to call 911 yet was clueless enough to help himself by virtue of simple automobile operation.

I bet a truckload of money makes this problem go away.

Ron_C's avatar

I think that a lot of people freeze up in emergencies. I never had a car speed up on me but I had a Volkswagen that would randomly shut down. I was driving at 65 MPH on the interstate when everything shut off, not even a “check engine light” came on. I shifted to neutral and glided to the break down lane. The funny thing is that after I got out of the car and put tried the ignition, it started with no problems or indication that anything went wrong. After two computers and an estimate to replace the wiring harness, I dumped the car.

I don’t see how sudden acceleration should be any different. Just turn off the engine, drift to the side of the road and call a tow truck.

If you can’t handle yourself in an emergency, you shouldn’t be driving the car.

I had an acceleration problem like that years ago. I had to take a driving test for a Navy School bus. I didn’t see the hole in the floor right by the accelerator pedal. My heal got stuck in the hole and I couldn’t get my foot off the gas. I shifted into neutral, and pulled off the road. The instructor was impressed and gave me my liscense on the spot.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I know in at least one case the Toyota had a one touch start/stop button. To turn it off you have to hold the button for 3–4 seconds. The driver kept pushing the button over and over like impatient people waiting for an elevator. He was a California highway patrolman who presumably knew how to drive. He died.

ella's avatar

because you can’t turn your car off while it’s in gear, i would imagine.

@Captain_Fantasy insurance policies wouldn’t cover engine damage from shifting into nuetral in this situation. this wouldn’t be a covered loss under any policy i’ve ever seen. you’d have to pursue the manufacturer to recoup your losses…

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

If you’re more concerned about the value of your car versus your own safety in a life/death situation, that’s not demonstrating good survival instinct and you probably won’t live to propagate the species.

tinyfaery's avatar

Death or debt? Hmm…

Aethelwine's avatar

I watched an interview with the driver of this latest incident this morning and he mentioned that he was worried that he would lose his power steering. Completely understandable.

He also mentioned that he never wanted to drive that car again.

ella's avatar

@Captain_Fantasy i don’t disagree at all. i’m a claim rep for the largest auto insurer in the US, and we tell people every day “just hit the deer” etc. broken cars we can repair or replace, but broken people are outside our field. i was merely disputing your comment that “they have insurance for situations like these.” cause we don’t.

filmfann's avatar

Years ago, I used some carborator cleaner on my Subaru.
A week later, a large piece of carbon fell into the butterfly valve on my carborator (I don’t speak this language, but this is what was told to me). The result was that I couldnt’ slow down my car, which was racing at 80, which is fast for a 20 year old Subaru.
I tried lifting the pedal, found it had no effect. I thought about the road ahead, and knew I couldn’t navigate it at high speeds, so i took the first offramp, and killed the engine half way up the ramp.
I didn’t have power steering, so I kept that, but I lost some of the brake power. No problem. I cruised thru the stop sign, and pulled up to the curb, like I knew what I was doing. Called my brother to help, and he told me what happened.
Are toyotas designed in a way that you can’t do this?

gorillapaws's avatar

So if you shift into neutral (which is what I would’ve done) and blow your engine, do you then loose power steering, or will you still have that with a blown engine?

filmfann's avatar

Your engine would seize, and you would lose power steering

davidbetterman's avatar

So you lose power steering. what’s the big deal. You can still steer. It is just harder.

chyna's avatar

In the interview I saw, the guy said it was not a key ignition, it was a push button ignition and he tried pushing the button and it wouldn’t shut off. It might be the same situation as @worriedguy said and the guy wasn’t holding it in long enough.

andrew's avatar

I was wondering this as well! Shift into neutral! Seriously!

The push-button thing makes a LITTLE more sense, but still.

Everest's avatar

Duh….people are DUMB.

LuckyGuy's avatar

3 seconds is an eternity if you have to hold your finger on a button that must be depressed the whole time. Of course you will slip off or try to press it again and again in frustration.
This is a drive by wire system. The pedal is not connected to the throttle. It is merely a sensor that sends a signal to the computer . The computer decides what you are thinking and adjusts the actual air and fuel rate. Toyota will not release the information to investigators. They contend there is only one computer in the US that can read the signals. Yeah right. The US companies are very open about that stored data. They will let law enforcement read the data if requested. Toyota refuses. Why?
The start and stop routines are computer controlled. Gone are the days when you start the car by having your key make the connection to the starter. The computer takes care of everything. Try bumping your key and watch how the car cranks and starts without you doing anything. Try turning the key to the crank position while you are driving. Nothing happens. Turn the car off get out, then reach in the window and turn the key for a ½ sec. The car will crank and start and run just fine. This is Drive-by-wire. If there is a glitch in the software you are screwed.
Toyota refuses to let investigators look at their software. They deserve to lose credibility for that alone.

plethora's avatar

Because BO would rather chastise the Japanese for making one of the most perfect vehicles on earth as opposed to all the screwups at the Big 3, which he now owns.

Zaku's avatar

Who the heck thought push-button ignition that you can’t easily turn off immediately was a good idea?

Drive by wire… um, wow. No thanks.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’m cool with drive by wire, as long as there’s a manual WTF STOP button that will bypass my vehicle’s decision to “try to help me get to my destination more quickly.”

Anyone notice that Skynet and Toyota have the same number of letters? coincidence? more than likely, but if they ever hire Governor Swartzenager for an ad campaign, I’m buying us all tinfoil hats.

sevenfourteen's avatar

just as an fyi to everyone saying he should have shifted into neutral the guy said he did and it just kept speeding up

jerv's avatar

You all might want to see this article from Car and Driver

Here is an excerpt for those that don’t want to follow the link:
“With the Camry’s throttle pinned while going 70 mph, the brakes easily overcame all 268 horsepower straining against them and stopped the car in 190 feet—that’s a foot shorter than the performance of a Ford Taurus without any gas-pedal problems and just 16 feet longer than with the Camry’s throttle closed. From 100 mph, the stopping-distance differential was 88 feet—noticeable to be sure, but the car still slowed enthusiastically enough to impart a feeling of confidence.”

Now, speaking as someone who has actually coasted a few vehicles with the engine off, I can say that while the loss of power assist is noticeable, it is still fairly easy to steer the vehicle at any speed over ~10 MPH assuming that you have enough muscle to open and close the car door on your own. Braking is a bit trickier with the engine off, but re-read the above excerpt.

The Prius is a bit different since hybrids have electric motors and electric motors, while low in power, have plenty of torque and thus could overpower the brakes…. at low speeds. As speeds rise, electric motors generally lose torque thus limiting their top speed, especially when the electric motor in question is too weak to propel the vehicle at high speed on it’s own with assistance from the gas engine.

“Neither the Camry’s nor the Infiniti’s automatic transmission showed any hesitancy to shift into neutral or park when accelerating at full tilt. ”

@sevenfourteen I call bullshit.

sevenfourteen's avatar

I’m just an innocent news watcher :P

kevbo's avatar

Here’s a well reasoned article about a production error theory for anyone who’s interested.

john65pennington's avatar

Lets talk about this person that called the CHP, 911, and asked for help. i am amazed he had time to call anyone,, if his vehicle sped out of control at 90 mph. here is my take on this individual. instead of shifting his transmission into neutral and turning off the ignition, he calls the CHP????? give me a break. this was strictly sensationalism for media attention and dollar signs in his eyes. i cannot believe this man called 911, instead of attempting to stop his vehicle. was he not thinking of the other drivers on the road? apparently not! i sincerly hope the public sees through this mans motive to collect money from Toyota. a civil jury will laugh him out of court.

MacBean's avatar

Man, I love it when people who don’t know what they’re talking about open their ignorant mouths. Pure comedy gold.

LostInParadise's avatar

It may be stating the obvious, but for people who are a bit dense it may be a good idea for newscasters or for Toyota itself to tell people what to do if their car starts to accelerate.

jerv's avatar

@sevenfourteen It’s possible for innocent newswatchers to be fed bullshit, and it’s not their fault it’s bullshit. Gigo

@LostInParadise These are the sorts of things that people should know before they are issued a drivers license! I mean, I knew much of this shit when I was literally six years old! You are somewhat correct in that the dense need reminders, but I thought that the whole purpose of testing before issuing a license was to prove that you knew what the fuck you were doing. Japan and some European nations have a test that does a good job of weeding out the jackoffs and imbeciles. That might explain how they manage to have less than half of the traffic fatalities (per capita) than we do here in the US despite higher/no speed limits and more treacherous mountain roads.

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