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Relax, your Volt isn’t going to spontaneously combust as your drive to Grandma’s house. The sky isn’t falling. Fox News has its head up its…butt.

Despite the bad press, which was only that and not a real-world issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement today saying that it closed the investigation into the Volt because they found “…no discernible defect…exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.” See below for the entire statement from NHTSA.

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the following statement today regarding the conclusion of its safety defect investigation into the post-crash fire risk of Chevy Volts (PE11037):

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety defect investigation into the potential risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash. Opened on November 25, the agency’s investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.

NHTSA remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate, fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components—and the innovative nature of this emerging technology—led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents.

Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash. However, electric vehicles have specific attributes that should be made clear to consumers, the emergency response community, and tow truck operators and storage facilities. Recognizing these considerations, NHTSA has developed interim guidance—with the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association, the Department of Energy, and others—to increase awareness and identify appropriate safety measures for these groups. The agency expects this guidance will help inform the ongoing work by NFPA, DOE, and vehicle manufacturers to educate the emergency response community, law enforcement officers, and others about electric vehicles.

For additional information on the Volt investigation and others, visit www.SaferCar.gov

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As expected, Toyota announced that it will, in fact, recall 133,000 2010 Priuses in the United States and about 300,000 in the rest of the world, for a total of 437,000 units worldwide. Toyota also included 14,550 2010 Lexus HS250h models as well, because they utilize the same anti-lock braking system as the Prius.

This picture speaks for itself. Note the Prius in the customer parking lot. Spotted today (9 Feb 2010) in suburban Detroit.

This picture speaks for itself. Note the Prius in the customer parking lot. Spotted today (9 Feb 2010) in suburban Detroit.

Toyota’s explanation of the problem is that “the anti-lock brake system (ABS), in normal operation, engages and disengages rapidly (many times per second) as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage.  Some owners have reported experiencing inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of the brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.” They go on to say that the affected vehicles are safe to drive, as increased effort will stop the car.

The fix is an update to the software that controls the anti-lock brakes. This update was already introduced for Priuses in production last month. Toyota says the update will take about 30 minutes.

Hidden away in the release is another recall, this one for the 2010 Toyota Camry. This one is for brakes also, but is unrelated to the Prius/HS250h ABS problem. In the Camry’s case, some 4 cylinder units have a power steering pressure hose in the engine compartment that is the incorrect length. If this condition exists, a crimp on the power steering pressure hose may come in contact with a front brake tube. Should this condition continue, a hole may wear in the brake tube and deplete the brake fluid in the vehicle.  As a result, the brake pedal stroke will increase and lead to greater vehicle stopping distance. Owners will be notified within the next week or 2. If affected, your dealer will inspect and, if necessary, adjust the space between the brake tube and the power steering pressure hose crimp.  Based upon the inspection results, the dealership may need to replace the brake tube.

In yet another issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering opening a formal investigation into the 2009-2010 Toyota Corolla. An analysis by Automotive News found that the Corolla has been the subject of 83 power-steering complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since April 2008. Seventy-six of those reports note that the vehicle unexpectedly veers to the left or right at 40 miles an hour and up. The complaints compare the issue to hydroplaning or being hit by a strong wind gust. NHTSA is reviewing the complaints and will decide whether to open a formal investigation. Following NHTSA’s initial review, a formal investigation typically begins with a preliminary evaluation which, if warranted by the evidence, can be upgraded to an engineering analysis. A recall can follow. Toyota switched from hydraulic to electric power steering with its 2009 Corolla, which first went on sale in February 2008. This is in addition to another Corolla issue. Since November, NHTSA has been investigating reports of engine stalls in the 2006 Corolla.

Wow. That’s about all I have to say. Toyota’s reputation has taken a slide so steep and so sudden that it would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. It is not just the recalls themselves that are the problem, strangely enough. The American people have a very forgiving nature. As long as you give them a real, heart-felt apology and fix the problem, they won’t hold a grudge. By all reports, Toyota has dragged its feet and has had to be forced by the US and Japanese governments to recall the biggest problem (at least in terms of number of vehicles affected – the accelerator pedals). This is why the media has been all over these issues. Toyota’s handling of these issues will be studied by students and businesses for years to come as an example of what not to do. It will be interesting to see, going forward, how they step up and if these issues continue to haunt them.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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On the heels of the latest recall of 2.3 million additional vehicles a few days ago, Toyota announced today that it is suspending sales and production of 8 models whose accelerator pedals are the subject of the latest recall. Toyota does not yet have a fix for the problem, so it is taking this step to prevent any more of the vehicles from getting into customers’ hands (and feet) until the problem is corrected.

“Helping ensure the safety of our customers and restoring confidence in Toyota are very important to our company,” said Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter. “This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized. We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.”

Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall and suspension of sales is confined to the following Toyota Division vehicles: 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, certain 2007-2010 Camry, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra and 2008-2010 Sequoia.

No Lexus Division or Scion vehicles or other Toyota division models are affected by these actions.

Obviously, if sales are being halted until a resolution is finalized, Toyota wants to stop production of the affected models. Therefore, the following plants in North America are also going to be shut down the week of February 1 to avoid making more units with the problem. Why not halt production right now? Because production schedules are set far in advance and it is very difficult to stop in the middle of a week. In an emergency, they of course could and would stop production. This isn’t an emergency though. The affected plants are Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Canada (Corolla, Matrix, and RAV4), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (Sequoia and Highlander), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky – Line 1 (Camry and Avalon), Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (Camry), Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (Tundra). Shutting down this many facilities will force the shut down of many supplier plants. Toyota did not indicate whether their workers would go on temporary layoff, but Toyota typically does not lay off workers. It will likely reassign the workers to maintenance work and/or training during that week. Workers at Toyota’s many supplier companies will not likely be so lucky.

I keep saying it, but it bears repeating. Toyota has built its entire reputation on its quality. With all of the quality lapses recently, it is only a matter of time until sales start to reflect the damaged reputation. The question is not “if” but “when” and “how much” the sales will be hurt.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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This is getting very repetitive. Yesterday, Toyota announced that it is recalling ANOTHER 2.3 million units to fix a sticky accelerator pedal. Trade journal Automotive News reported that the newly identified problem is caused by a mechanism that controls the accelerator pedal’s return to the idle position after being pressed to the floor. This problem is unrelated to a similar acceleration problem related to the pedal getting stuck under the floor mats.

Yesterday, Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the problem is rare and stems from pedals that “prematurely wear” because of a supplier’s faulty pedal design. Today he said condensation can prevent the pedal from fully springing back into position, but he did not identify fixes Toyota is reviewing. He also said the issue involves only part supplier CTS, one of the two parts makers that build the pedal mechanisms for Toyota. Interesting how Toyota is blaming its supplier for the problem. Where exactly does the buck stop?

This recall covers 2005-10 Avalons, 2007-10 Camrys and Tundras, 2008-10 Sequoias, 2009-10 Corollas, 2009-10 RAV4s, 2009-10 Matrixes, and 2010 Highlanders.

Toyota (literally) built its reputation in the US based on its “bulletproof” quality. Customers have been known to buy Toyota products only because of the actual and perceived quality advantage over other manufacturers’ products. They gave up other attributes such as style and features and excitement to get the quality. With Toyota now at the top of the US recall list (therefore losing the “actual” part of the equation), one wonders whether those customers will now have any reason to shop at the Toyota store at all. Past slogans such as “Who could ask for anything more!” and “Oh what a feeling!” and “I love what you do for me..Toyota!” take on new meaning with all of Toyota’s recent quality issues.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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How to Adjust Your Mirrors

16th January 2010

I ran across this technique years ago and have been using it ever since.  It truly works, and will make you a safer driver.  One caveat, though. You will no longer see the side of your car out of your side mirrors, so this will likely result in a little adjustment period until you are comfortable with it.

If everybody does this, the term “blind spot” will go the way of 8 Track tapes. Click the link below.

areyourcarmirrorsadjustedcorrectly

After you try it, post a comment to let others know how well you like it.

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Another Shoe Drops

24th December 2009

Toyota’s sterling quality reputation is taking another hit, this time for the Prius. The best-selling hybrid car in the world is now the subject of a safety investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). thedetroitbureau.com is reporting that NHTSA has received 33 complaints of brake failure on the current 3rd generation Prius.

In the case of the Prius brakes, it appears that the transition from regenerative braking to hydraulic braking is not transparent to drivers. Under certain conditions, the driver needs to press harder on the brake pedal to obtain the same stopping performance the regenerative system working in conjunction with the hydraulic brakes initially provides. Drivers are clearly upset by longer than expected stopping distances.

The problem seems to occur when the car goes over a bump or pothole. Somehow, the jarring disrupts the regenerative brakes’ operation.

A Toyota spokesperson initially told TDB that he was unaware of the issue, but Toyota quickly supplied the following statement: “We are aware of the complaints filed with NHTSA. The agency has not opened an investigation. We are investigating the issue based on internet traffic, customer comments to Toyota Customer Relations, and NHTSA complaints. It is too early to speculate the final conclusion(s) of our investigation and subsequent actions.”

Toyota has had several recalls recently. Toyota is in the midst of huge recalls involving floor mats and accelerator pedals (3.8 million vehicles) and rusty Tundra frames (+100,000), among others; and it faces lawsuits alleging the withholding of evidence in safety investigations, as well as new charges of unintended acceleration, and stalling in some of its most popular models.
Toyota’s worst year for recalls, ever
So far this year, Toyota has said it will recall a total of 4.8 million vehicles in the United States, four times more than in any previous year. It recalled 1.1 million vehicles in 2004.

So far, Toyota’s sales have not been hurt by the quality issues. Only time will tell if they are hurt long term. The D3 weren’t hurt by their bad quality at first either.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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27 vehicles (19 cars and 8 SUVs) earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick award for 2010, substantially lower than for 2009, the IIHS announced recently.  The main reason for the lower number of recipients is that the IIHS added a requirement that the vehicles must score a “good” in a roof strength test to measure protection in a rollover is required to win. 94 vehicles earned the Top Safety Pick for 2009.

Ford was the big winner for the 2nd year in a row, earning 6 Top Safety Picks, while Volkswagen and Subaru were next with 5 each.  Chrysler earned 4, and IIHS commented specifically on Chrysler’s efforts, saying, “… continuing a recent trend of improving the crashworthiness of its vehicles.”  Notable in their absence from the list are Toyota (which includes 28 Toyota, Lexus and Scion models), and BMW.

3 of the best selling midsize cars notably didn’t make the list. Honda Accord and Ford Fusion just missed scoring a “good” on the roof strength test or they would have earned the Top Safety Pick.  Toyota Camry would have qualified with good ratings, except for its rear crash evaluation.  Camry’s seats and head restraints are rated marginal for protection against whiplash injury.

Keep in mind that all cars and trucks have to pass certain safety standards to be for sale in the US; the IIHS evaluates vehicles to determine which are the safest, according to their own standards.  In some ways, the IIHS is at odds with the federal government, which promotes fuel economy.  In the IIHS press release, they say, “Keep in mind vehicle size and weight, because larger, heavier vehicles generally afford better protection in serious crashes than smaller, lighter ones.  Even with a Top Safety Pick, a small car isn’t as crashworthy as a bigger one.”  All things equal, a “larger, heavier vehicle” will get poorer fuel economy than a “smaller, lighter vehicle.”  The smaller, lighter one will also generally be more maneuverable, thus helping avoid the accident in the first place.  My point is simply to remind you that there is no one way to evaluate a potential vehicle purchase.  Use your common sense (if you have any) to look at how the vehicle scores on many different criteria.

Here is the IIHS’s complete list of Top Safety Picks for 2010:

Large cars
Buick LaCrosse
Ford Taurus
Lincoln MKS
Volvo S80

Midsize cars
Audi A3
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring 4-door with optional electronic stability control
Dodge Avenger with optional electronic stability control
Mercedes C class
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Volkswagen Jetta sedan
Volkswagen Passat sedan
Volvo C30

Small cars
Honda Civic 4-door models (except Si) with optional electronic stability control
Kia Soul
Nissan Cube
Subaru Impreza except WRX
Volkswagen Golf 4-door

Midsize SUVs
Dodge Journey
Subaru Tribeca
Volvo XC60
Volvo XC90

Small SUVs
Honda Element
Jeep Patriot with optional side torso airbags
Subaru Forester
Volkswagen Tiguan

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Driving in the Rain

19th October 2009

I received the following e-mail today, and it made me wonder how many have gotten it and actually believe it to be true:

Driving in the Rain
I wonder how many people know about this ~   
A 36 year old female had an accident several weeks ago and totaled her car.  A resident of Kilgore, Texas, she was traveling between Gladewater & Kilgore.  It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydroplane and literally flew through the air.  She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence!  

When she explained to the highway patrolman what had happened he told her something that every driver should know – NEVER DRIVE IN THE RAIN WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON.  She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruise control and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain.  

But the highway patrolman told her that if the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydroplane and your tires lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane.   She told the patrolman that was exactly what had occurred.   

The patrolman said this warning should be listed, on the driver’s seat sun-visor – NEVER USE THE CRUISE CONTROL WHEN THE PAVEMENT IS WET OR ICY, along with the airbag warning.  We tell our teenagers to set the cruise control and drive a safe speed – but we don’t tell them to use the cruise control only when the pavement is dry. 

The only person the accident victim found, who knew this (besides the patrolman), was a man who had had a similar accident, totaled his car and sustained severe injuries. 

NOTE: Some vehicles (like the Toyota Sienna Limited XLE) will not allow you to set the cruise control when the windshield wipers are on.  

If you send this to 15 people and only one of them doesn’t know about this, then it was all worth it.  You might have saved a life.

First, the basic lesson of the note is true – you should not use your cruise control in slippery or icy conditions.  It reduces your reaction time to changing and hazardous conditions.  Also, to disengage cruise control you press the brake pedal, which is the WORST REACTION if your car begins to slip in the rain (it’s actually a bad move on slippery roads period). Pressing the brake when your wheels begin to lose traction will cause you to lose control.  If that happened to the lady in the story (assuming it’s not a complete myth), it may have felt like “flying”, but it was just an uncontrolled spin/skid.

The rest of the note is utterly false.  Your car CANNOT speed up if it is hydroplaning.  Hydroplaning occurs when the tires are riding on the plane of water and not on the road surface.  In order for your vehicle to gain speed, the tires must be in contact with the road surface.  The car might “think” it is speeding up, as the tires might well begin to gain speed as they rotate faster in a hydroplane situation, but the vehicle will not be gaining speed.

Even if the car were to suddenly gain speed, your car cannot “literally” fly through the air – unless you drive off a cliff or up a ramp a la Evel Knievel.  I consulted an expert in aerodynamics and jet engine design, who has multiple degrees in aerospace engineering.  He said (and this is an actual quote), “That’s a funny email…Duhhh… cars can’t take off like an airplane.  Should be self-explanatory.  No wings to generate lift, too heavy, etc.  And again, the tires aren’t grabbing the road this scenario (slippery), so how can you accelerate??  The only force acting on the car is air resistance, which is slowing it down.”

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Toyota issued a “safety advisory” today regarding the risk that the accelerator pedal could be forced into the full open (“floored”) position if the driver side floor mats are unsecured or incompatible.  This condition could result in very high speeds and result in crashes with serious injury and/or death.  Toyota does not yet have a fix for the problem, and is instructing owners of all affected vehicles to remove the floor mats immediately and not replace them with another mat.  The affected vehicles are:

  • 2007 – 2010 Camry
  • 2005 – 2010 Avalon
  • 2004 – 2009 Prius
  • 2005 – 2010 Tacoma
  • 2007 – 2010 Tundra
Toyota is giving owners of the affected vehicles the following instructions if they find themselves in a vehicle that is accelerating unintentionally:
Should the vehicle continue to accelerate rapidly after releasing the accelerator pedal, this could be an indication of floor mat interference.  If this occurs, Toyota recommends the driver take the following actions:

First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal; then pull over and stop the vehicle.

If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.

Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF, or to ACC. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.

-If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button.

-If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel
.

“This is an urgent matter,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “We strongly urge owners of these vehicles to remove mats or other obstacles that could lead to unintended acceleration.”

The recall was sparked by an Aug. 28 accident in San Diego during which four people were killed in a Lexus, said Irv Miller, a spokesman for Toyota.

This is the largest recall for Toyota and is more than 70% higher than their total 2008 sales in the US.  Toyota’s previous recall record was 900,000 vehicles recalled in 2005.

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2010 Cadillac SRX

2010 Cadillac SRX

Our spy photographers, always on the lookout for a scoop, spotted this undisguised 2010 Cadillac SRX in suburban Detroit on Friday, January 2. As you can see, the new SRX takes its styling cues from the new CTS. It has the bold, larger front grill area and fog lamps in the front. The rear is also reminiscent of the CTS, with similar taillamps and license plate area. Notice also that the top of the tailamps are not flush with the body panels.

The new SRX will move from the rear-wheel drive platform that it currently shares with the CTS and STS to a front-wheel drive platform.  Production moves from Lansing, Michigan to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.  All-wheel drive continues as an option. The AWD system includes an advanced electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD) that distributes torque as needed from side to side along the rear axle, as well as from the front to rear axle. The pre-emptive, active-on-demand system provides an extra measure of capability in wet or icy conditions.

The standard engine will be a 3.0L V6 with direct injection, making 260hp (5hp higher than the present standard engine).  It is a smaller version of the 3.6L powerplant in the CTS, where it makes 306hp.  The optional engine is a turbocharged 2.8L V6, making 300hp.  Why not just use the 3.6L from the CTS?  GM is trying to improve fuel economy, and while EPA numbers are not yet available, it is likely that the 2.8L turbo gets better fuel economy that the 3.6L – with the same power.

The 2010 SRX features numerous advanced electronic systems. Highlights include a “pop-up” navigation

2010 Cadillac SRX

2010 Cadillac SRX

screen with three-dimensional imaging; adaptive forward lighting that swivels the headlamps in synch with vehicle steering; power liftgate with adjustable height setting; integrated hard disc drive for audio storage and a dual-screen system for rear entertainment. Bluetooth compatibility is standard, as is OnStar’s turn-by-turn navigation service for buyers who do not select the car’s navigation system option.

18″ aluminum wheels are standard on all versions, while 20″ wheels are optional. 4-wheel disc brakes are standard with ABS and stability control.

The new SRX is shorter than the outgoing model, losing a little more than 4″ in length to 190.2″. It is shorter in height by 2″, but is wider than the outgoing model. One downside of the shorter length is that the new SRX will no longer have a 3rd row as an option, but Cadillac still has the Escalade for those that really want 3 rows.

The new SRX should better appeal to buyers in the luxury crossover segment. It is better looking and will get better fuel economy while providing more standard power. It’s new front-wheel drive platform will get better traction for those not upgrading to all-wheel drive. Pricing is still TBD, and Cadillac will show the new SRX at the North American International Auto Show next week.

2010 Cadillac SRX Interior

2010 Cadillac SRX Interior

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