Unintended acceleration not just in Toyotas

January 22, 2010 1:14:32 PM PST
Toyota recently recalled almost 4 million vehicles because of a possible problem with unintended acceleration. Consumer Reports has just completed an in-depth analysis of government data and found that Toyota isn't the only manufacturer with complaints.

Driver Nancy Bernstein feels lucky to be alive after her Toyota Prius kept accelerating, no matter how hard she hit the brakes.

"The car's going about 70 miles an hour, and I'm beginning to get scared because it's not slowing down," Bernstein said.

Bernstein was finally able to bring her car to a stop without injury, but the brakes of her car were completely burnt out.

At Consumer Reports' test track, engineer Jake Fisher simulated a sudden unintended acceleration. Even though the brake was fully engaged, he could not stop the car.

"As hard as we put our foot on the brake, the car slowed down a lot, but wouldn't come to a complete stop," Fisher said.

Consumer Reports' analysis of government data from the 2008 model year shows that sudden-acceleration incidents are not limited to one manufacturer. More than 40 percent of sudden-acceleration complaints involve Toyotas. Ford is second, with 28 percent, and other companies also had complaints.

But it is possible to design a car where the brake can bring the car to a stop.

"Some manufacturers, particularly European companies, offer a technology called smart throttle. This allows the brake pedal to override the accelerator. And this is technology that Toyota will be looking to add to production in the near future, as well as retrofit to some existing models," said Consumer Reports' Jeff Bartlett.

While Consumer Reports says the risk of sudden acceleration is low, it's important to know what to do. Apply the brakes firmly and put the car in neutral without taking your foot off the brake. The engine will rev, but you'll be able to bring the car to a stop and turn it off.

By following this advice, if you ever find yourself in Nancy Bernstein's situation, you can do your best to come through it safe and sound.

Consumer Reports says if your car suddenly accelerates, you can be too flustered to remember what to do. So it's a good idea to take your car to an empty parking lot and practice shifting into neutral, so if it does happen, you will be prepared.

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