Product Liability

Prius presents potential dangers

A recent report by ConsumerAffairs.com, a web site that provides information including consumer news, recalls, and scam alerts, warns motorists of several dangerous problems associated with the popular Toyota Prius hybrid automobile that could result in serious injury. The most dangerous complaints submitted to the watchdog web site about the vehicle include unintended acceleration, poor or non-existent traction control, and unusual tire wear.

A man in Colorado reported an incident of unintended acceleration when his wife was at the wheel of their new Prius, which resulted in a totaled car and injuries. He says his wife noticed that the car was accelerating despite her efforts to slow the vehicle. The car accelerated from 65 to 90 miles per hour, despite hard braking, even including the emergency brake. The car eventually crashed through a stop sign into a grove of trees.

ConsumerAffairs says it has received similar stories of runaway Priuses from California, Michigan, Colorado and Washington. The site says Toyota blames these problems on faulty floor mats that jam the acceleration pedal. The Colorado case mentioned above is currently under investigation.

Another potentially dangerous situation with the Prius involves the traction control system, which drivers report is ineffective in even light snow and ice situations. One driver even reported the car is unable to effectively climb a steep gravel driveway. The web site says several Prius drivers suspect the traction control is designed to prevent wheel spin that might damage the hybrid’s electric motor. The result leaves motorists unable to cope with potentially hazardous road conditions.

Finally, ConsumerAffairs has received reports of premature tire wear, which it says has been ongoing since the hybrid first began being marketed in the United States. According to reports, tires wear much more quickly than is normal, significantly less than tire manufacturers recommend for replacing the tires. Vehicle owners must be vigilant about checking tire wear or face danger of unexpected blowouts, the consumer organization says.

Other, less hazardous problems reported with the Prius include battery failure, difficulty filling the fuel tank completely, and poor gas mileage.