San Diego, California – Toyota has examined and tested a Prius involved in an alleged “runaway event” in California and said that there are strong indications that the driver’s account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis.
The report, which the company said is not yet complete, contains key preliminary findings of technical field examination and testing performed on March 10 and 11, 2010.
The vehicle, a 2008 Prius, was being driven by James Sikes on March 8 when he made a 911 call and said that the vehicle was travelling at a high rate of speed, the accelerator pedal was stuck, and that the vehicle was out of control and could not be stopped. The emergency operator repeatedly instructed him to shift the car into neutral and turn off the power button.
A California Highway Patrol officer intercepted the vehicle and instructed the driver to press firmly on the brakes, apply the emergency brake and turn off the car, at which time the Prius came to a safe stop.
Toyota engineers used data download and analysis, static and dynamic testing, and an inspection of all relative components. In addition, they retraced the report driving route. The investigation revealed the following initial findings:
– The accelerator pedal was tested and found to be working normally, with no mechanical binding or friction. The Prius is not subject to a recall for sticking accelerator pedals, and the component on the car is made by a different supplier than the one recalled.
– The front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating, but the rear brakes and parking brake were functional and in good condition.
– A Toyota carpet floor mat, correct for the vehicle, was installed but not secured to the retention hooks. The mat was not found to be interfering with or touching the accelerator pedal.
– The pushbutton power switch worked normally and shut the vehicle off when depressed for three seconds. The shift lever also worked normally and neutral could be selected.
– There were no diagnostic trouble codes found in the power management computer, and the dashboard malfunction indicator light was not activated. The hybrid self-diagnostic system showed evidence of numerous, rapidly-repeated on-and-off applications of both the accelerator and brake pedals.
– After examination, the front brakes were replaced and the vehicle test-driven, during which it functioned normally. During testing, the brakes were purposely overheated by continuous light application, but the vehicle could still be safely stopped.
– A self-protection function which cuts engine power if moderate brake pedal pressure is applied and the accelerator pedal is depressed more than approximately 50 per cent was found to be functioning normally during the preliminary field examination.
The engineers said that they believe it would be extremely difficult for the Prius to be driven at continuous high speed with more than light brake pedal pressure, and the assertion that the vehicle could not be stopped with the brakes is fundamentally inconsistent with the vehicle’s basic design and the investigation observations. Toyota said that the findings suggest that there should be further examination of the driver’s accounts of the incident.
Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were present during Toyota’s examination and are conducting their own investigation of the vehicle and its performance. Toyota’s examination was also observed by a congressional staff member.