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Toyota Recall: Experts Point To Electronics; Electro-Magnetic Interference

9 comments

As I have documented for months, many experts believe Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem stems primarily from a defect in the vehicles’ electronics – the electronic throttle controls and the on-board computer. Now, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (who drives a Toyota Prius) and US safety officials are publicly investigating Toyota’s electronics.

From USA Today:

"This problem is well-known to all automakers. If you can solve this problem, you would be a multibillionaire," said John Liu, a Wayne State University professor of electrical and computer engineering. . . .

With new, high-profile investigations into Toyota’s electronics, the mainstream media is finally starting to take notice. USA Today featured an article explaining how radio wave interference could cause electronic throttles to go haywire.

Here’s a scary thought: your car could take off like a rocket on you when radio waves or microwaves interfere with the electronic throttle system.

With today’s drive-by-wire systems, all it could take is a cellphone, satellite radio or a large microwave in a restaurant that theoretically could interfere with the car’s computer system and cause unintended acceleration, reports Greg Gardner in the Detroit Free Press. It would be extremely hard to detect, but could help explain why some Toyota owners who are not covered by the recall say they have had unintended acceleration incidents.

An independent safety expert has told me that a disproportionate number of these sudden acceleration events occur in or around car washes. The data suggest the car wash causes electromagnetic interference with the vehicle electronics, which either initiates or replicates errant signals to the electronic throttle controls. This interference is likely caused by moisture penetrating the electronics and acting as a conductor for electromagnet interference from the car wash machinery.

As documented by USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, similar electromagnetic interference could arise from a cell phone, radio or even a restaurant’s large microwave oven.

The Free Press article points out — as I have for months — that Toyota trails its competitors in smart brake technology, a critical safety device that could have prevented the deadliest sudden acceleration collisions. As I reported last week, other car makers (including Chrysler, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have utilized this simple technology for at least 15 years and Toyota could have installed this technology for less than one dollar ($1.00) per vehicle. Toyota’s failure to include this critical safety device that costs only pennies is inexcusable.

"You can’t wash it away on the basis of probability and blame it on Toyota’s growth," said Sean Kane, a safety researcher for Safety Research and Strategies in Rehoboth, Mass. "They certainly need to apply the brake-override technology on all vehicles with electronic throttle control."

Kane’s firm has compiled regulatory and accident data back to 1999 that it said shows 2,262 complaints, 815 crashes, 314 injuries and 19 deaths attributable to sudden acceleration in Toyota-produced vehicles.

As I have documented here for the last several months, Toyota has known about — and ignored — its sudden acceleration problem for more than five years. Instead of acknowledging and repairing this widespread defect, Toyota waited years to acknowledge the defect and instead blamed its own customers. It appears Toyota’s conduct is just more of the same for a company with a documented history of safety-problem cover-ups.

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9 Comments

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  1. Sandy Freeman says:
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    My husband had a Toyota Tacoma that did the same thing a couple of years ago totaling the vehicle. Thank God no one was hurt. We were left with only the insurance companies value of the truck. Is there any recourse at this time? My husband did mention the pedal sticking in the police report.
    Thanks,
    Sandy

  2. Eideard says:
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    Do you make your own tinfoil hats or buy them readymade?

    That question is as relevant as your statement, opinions and ephemera presented as facts supporting your premise about emf.

  3. Brett Emison says:
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    Eideard,

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. However, I disagree with the premise of your comment.

    Apparently the consensus of safety experts across the country, a co-founder of Apple, investigations by NHTSA and the United States Congress has become “ephemera” – for those not as literary as Eideard, ephemera are items designed to be useful or important for only a short time, esp. pamphlets, notices, tickets, etc. – in your world.

    I did not conjure nor invent these facts. I did not compile the facts from fringe regions of analytical research. Rather, the nefarious, conspiracy-theorist site I sourced my material from was… USA Today.

    Come now, Eideard, these multiple sources are hardly the makings of tin-foil wearing conspiracy theorists.

    If you believe my facts are in error, then please present your own facts. That is what is wonderful about a comments section. Let’s have an ongoing dialogue about what is causing the Toyota sudden acceleration problem. Don’t just sit there behind a made up name making baseless accusations.

    Show your work.

    I have citations to each of my sources so I can allow my readers to make up their own minds. So should you.

    Thanks again for reading.

  4. Bill says:
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    Eideard,

    I have been following Mr. Emison’s reporting on the developing Toyota story for the past several months, and I must say that I don’t remember a single instance of Mr. Emison presenting a piece of information as fact without a citation to a national media outlet or independent safety expert. I consider Mr. Emison’s blog posts to be the most complete and comprehensive source of information on this national news story that I have yet encountered.

    That you suggest his “statements, opinions, and ephemera presented as facts” are somehow erroneous is intriguing to me, and if you have some evidence contrary to the information that Mr. Emison has presented, I think many people, including Toyota, Toyota dealers, Toyota factory workers, Toyota owners, NHTSA, insurance companies, and the American driving public would all be very interested in your information and proposed solutions to this very real safety concern.

    In this blog post Mr. Emison has proposed a valid, inexpensive, easily implemented solution (Smart Brake) that would prevent these tragic accidents. I challenge you to present a valid solution and to provide evidence that Mr. Emison’s sources and information are incorrect.

    Regards,
    Bill

  5. kristen says:
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    I am curious about Jeep Grand Cherokees sudden unintended acceleration and if it relates to the Toyota problems. I mention this because many people have also thought that SUA in Jeeps is caused by electronic “glitches” in the computer system and not offset pedal placement as Daimler Chrylser has claimed. In your last paragraph you accuse Toyota of ignoring SUA problems for years (rightly so), yet Diane Sawyer did a story about Jeeps in 1997 and nothing has been said about Daimler Chrysler. On a blog, DC’s PR guy basically blamed immigrants for crashes that killed people. His quote – “workin at the car wash, baby.” This did not go over well with the car wash industry, which has had round table discussions about Jeep SUA, not Toyota SUA. http://www.carwash.org As with Toyota, everyone is quick to blame the driver. If SUA in Toyotas is caused by on board computer problems, will the NHTSA revisit the Jeep Grand Cherokee issue?

    Here is a list of links about Jeeps: http://sites.google.com/site/jeepgrandcherokeesua/links-resources

  6. Brett Emison says:
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    Sudden unintended acceleration is not limited to Toyota vehicles alone. Audi had a well-document problem with sudden acceleration years ago. Ford, GM and Chrysler vehicles have also had reports of sudden acceleration.

    According to Consumer Reports, Toyota has had more sudden acceleration complaints than any other car maker. However, I hope that federal safety investigators look at all makes and models — not simply Toyota. All car companies owe it to their customers, their drivers and innocent motorists to make sure their vehicle are safe and will not surge out of control.

    Chrysler is one of the many car makers that has installed “smart brake” technology in at least some of its vehicle – although I admit I do not know if the device is present in Jeep Cherokees. Smart brakes override throttle input when the brake is engaged and would slow and stop the vehicle, even if computer glitches caused the engine to run out of control. All modern cars should be equipped with this critical safety device.

  7. Rick says:
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    With regards to the issue of sudden acceleration occurring in or around car washes. You may be wise to examine the key issue, many of the sudden acceleration issues that have happened are directly related to the Jeep / Chrysler brand Jeep Cherokee product. Car wash employees have died in the line of performing their job because of a flaw in this vehicle. If you are to maintain EMI is the cause then you must find that driving in the rain near any source that produces EMI could be dangerous. You may as well stay at home if it’s raining or drive only in remote areas.
    I have video of such a incident at our wash that shows the employee driving, had applied the brake when starting the Jeep. He was not able to slow the vehicle before the collision occurred. It’s unfortunate that car washes should receive this type of sad so called unnamed(expert) opinion on this matter. I recommend further comunication with the ICA – International Carwash Association.

  8. Brett Emison says:
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    Rick,

    Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. However, I think you misunderstood the point of my post and that of the expert with whom I spoke.

    It appears the trouble is not with the car wash, but with Toyota (and, based on your information, Jeep as well). The faulty system is Toyota, not the car wash. Several accounts have documented that several kinds of electric machinery of any kind can cause this malfunction. It just so happens that there is a “perfect storm” of water (conductor); electric machinery (energy source); and a defective vehicle (Toyota) present at many car washes that results in an increased number of sudden acceleration events.

    I was simply using the increased number of SUA events at car washes to illustrate the defect inherent within Toyota’s electronic throttle controls.

    Thanks again for reading.

  9. Rich says:
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    You’ll have to forgive poor Eideard. I am sure his post is link bait. He needs to drive traffic to his pathetically undervisited blog. He has to be well aware that it is currently suffering from an Alexa ranking of 25,679,583. (!!) Frankly, I didn’t know the rankings went that high.

    No less an authority than Dr. R. Alan Kehs of the U.S. Army Research Lab, speaking before the Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress on February 25, 1998 mentioned EMI in a hearing on radio frequency weapons (RFW): “Some common examples (of EMI) are the effects of lightning strikes or automotive ignition noise on radio transmission, placing two computers too close to one another on a bench, driving under power lines while trying to listen to the radio, and so forth.”

    In those same hearings, Lieutenant General Robert L. Schweitzer U.S. Army (Retired), says, “The Los Angeles Police Department had done some successful work with vehicles in the interests of public safety and to halt fleeing suspects.”

    We’ve all heard EMI at one time or another. You can even hear the EMI on a video that appears on Baitcar.com. This site is operated by the Integrated Municipal Provincal Auto Crime Team (IMPACT) based in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. In one video, (http://baitcar.com/video/the_shaker) you can actually hear the EMI caused by the vehicle’s ignition system. (The microphone in the car is probably not shielded) Then you hear the interference cease suddenly as the police use RF — a more stepped-up and powerful application of EMI — to disable that same ignition. Pretty cool.

    So, Ediard, step up and join the rest of us here in the 21st century. EMI is real, and with a sufficient level of power, and direction, or unsufficient shielding, or all of those, either directed or random EMI can affect power and control devices.