Toyota Says Nothing Wrong With Runaway Prius, Questions Driver's Story

Toyota Says Nothing Wrong With Runaway Prius, Questions Driver's Story

As expected, Toyota on Monday said its tests of an alleged runaway Prius showed that there is nothing wrong with the car. The company stated from its Torrance-based U.S. headquarters that "these findings suggest that there should be further examination of [driver James] Sikes' account."

As we've been reporting the company's blame-the-victim strategy has been echoed by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who inserted his own layman observer into a federal inspection of the vehicle. Interestingly, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have not yet released their conclusion about last week's incident in eastern San Diego County in which Sikes says the Prius accelerated at up to 90 miles an hour as he stood on the brakes.

A California Highway Patrol officer who drove up to the Prius reportedly witnessed Sikes practically standing up, with smoke coming from the vehicle's wheel wells. It seems like it would be hard to make that stuff up, but Toyota seems to be saying it's a hoax.

" ... There are strong indications that the driver's account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis," states the carmaker.

Toyota says that the acceleration pedal was found to be working fine, that the front brakes did sustain "severe wear and damage," that the car's power switch was operating as it should, that neutral was easily accessible via shift lever, that no trouble codes were found on the car's electronic control unit, and that it could not recreate Sikes' situation without the Prius stopping as it should have.

Interestingly, the carmaker notes that depressing the brakes and accelerator at the same time causes the car to automatically cut engine power, as designed. However, it's not really clear if the acceleration pedal was stuck or if, as some critics suggest, some digital "ghost in the machine" was at work.

Critics argue that a one-time electronic glitch is possible and that Toyota has been avoiding the issue by blaming pedal design and carpet installation for other incidences of sudden acceleration.

Toyota said Sikes car was not under an acceleration-related recall, although the driver reported he received a notice, took it into a dealership and was turned away without service.

The company notes that "Toyota's examination" of the Prius was "observed by a congressional staff member." How convenient. Issa lobbied to have a layman staffer from his office observe the inspection of the car, and now he has jumped the gun by announcing that investigators couldn't mimic Sikes' ride.

Why Toyota was allowed to complete its own investigation -- in an acceleration-related issue that has cost the carmaker millions of dollars and likely will cost more -- is a mystery. Next time you're named as the possible cause of a potentially fatal error, let the authorities know that you'd like to conduct your own investigation at the same time they do their detective work. See how far that gets you.

If you ask us, it looks like Toyota, still reluctant to admit possible electronic issues with its cars, has hijacked this investigation with the help one U.S. congressman.

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