Consumer Fraud

Toyota gives contradictory and confusing advice to Prius drivers

Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem has been splashed all over the news for months, leaving many drivers worried that their vehicles may one day race out of control without warning. Recently, much attention has been focused on the Prius, thanks to a growing number of incidents — some real and others apparently false – of the popular hybrids racing out of control. To help drivers who may one day find themselves behind the wheel of a runaway Prius, Toyota issued a press release on March 12 outlining the steps to take to bring the vehicle to a stop.

The problem is that some of the advice contradicts the Prius owner’s manual, as Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. points out. For instance, in its press release, Toyota Prius Vehicle Throttle and Brake Systems: Myth VS Fact, Toyota says:

“Myth: In the event you encounter a runaway vehicle, the first thing you should do is to turn off the ignition.”

The release then states:

“Although turning off the ignition is a possible course of action, the first thing a driver should do is to put the transmission in Neutral. This separates the driveline from the wheels, and gives the driver instant speed control over the vehicle, and allows the driver to time to assess what is happening.”

Toyota adds that shifting to neutral will preserve the power steering and brake systems for easier operation of the vehicle.

However, on page 155 of the 2010 Prius owner’s manual, Toyota’s instructions are completely different:

“Do not under any circumstances shift the shift lever to ‘R’, ‘N’ or push the ‘P’ position switch while the vehicle is moving. Doing so can cause significant damage to the transmission and may result in a loss of vehicle control.

“Do not shift the lever to ‘N’ while the vehicle is moving. Doing so may cause the engine brake not to operate properly and lead to an accident,” the Prius manual instructs.

Toyota’s memo also says that “Pressing the start/stop button to turn off the ignition can be done as the next step.”

“This will shut down power assist to the brakes and steering system … but the driver can still brake and steer the vehicle manually in this condition.”

However, the Prius manual says “Do not turn the hybrid system off while driving. The power steering and brake actuator will not operate properly if the hybrid system is not operating.”

These instructions demonstrate how Toyota’s dishonesty can be so utterly dangerous to public safety. By failing to respond to consumer complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with an honest an appropriate course of action, Toyota instead created a labyrinth of misleading information and confusing contradictions.

Toyota’s press release also says it’s a myth that the Prius brake system “is not able to stop the car at speed with a wide-open throttle,” calling it fact that “the brake system on each Toyota model is capable of overpowering the driveline to stop the vehicle – even with the throttle in a wide-open condition.”

“Apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal – use two feet if needed, to bring the vehicle to a halt,” Toyota instructs.

However, according to Safety Research and Strategies, “This doesn’t always work.” The firm cites the case of Elizabeth James of Eagle, Colorado, who tried to stop her 2005 Prius from speeding out of control by using both the floor and the emergency brakes. Her efforts were unsuccessful, and the Prius plowed through the woods, hit a shed, and plunged into a river, leaving James with long-term injuries to her back, legs, and abdomen.