Prius Runaway Story Raises Suspicion

James Sikes, a 61-year-old San Diego-based real estate executive, made national news this week when he claimed that his 2008 Toyota Prius sped out of control on California’s Interstate 8. Sikes said, “I pushed the gas pedal to pass a car and it did something kind of funny…it jumped and it just stuck there.” Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Sikes said, “I was trying the brakes…it wasn’t stopping, it wasn’t doing anything and it just kept speeding up.” The story was picked up by major national media and ricocheted around the Internet.

According to Sikes, he was unable to shift into neutral, power down the car, or apply the parking brake—but but he did manage to call 911. Whle Sikes was on the call, which lasted 23 minutes, a California Highway Patrolman raced to the side of the speeding car. The patrolman used a loudspeaker to advise Sikes to apply the parking brake and foot brake simultaneously, and thereby successfully bring the car to a stop. There are conflicting reports about whether or not Sikes tried to put the Prius into neutral during the early part of the incident.

Runaway News Reports

A local television news report misreported that the patrolman used “his own police cruiser as a brake.” CNN reported that the main “claimed that he almost flew over a hill at more than 90 miles per hour in his Prius.”

There were other mistakes in national media coverage, including the report that the Sikes incident caused Toyota to issue a new recall for 2004 – 2009 Toyota Priuses. Those vehicles were included in a late 2009 voluntary safety recall—related to accelerator pedals that could be trapped by floor mats. There have been reports that some Toyota vehicles that received service in a separate recall are still experiencing problems, but second-generation Priuses, such as Sikes’s, have not yet been called into dealerships. Nonetheless, Sikes claims that he was turned away from a Toyota dealership when he tried to get the Prius serviced as part of a recall.

The 2010 model year Prius was recalled—but for software issues related to “brake feel,” not acceleration issues.

Local Fox News coverage.

James Sikes was identified in a 2006 newspaper story as a longtime lottery player who won $55,000 and auditioned to appear on a California Lottery TV game show. Another unconfirmed report indicates that Sikes filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2008, and faced federal and state tax liens.

Sikes’s wife, Patty, said Tuesday the family’s Prius appeared to have a brief accelerator malfunction a few weeks ago. “It took off for a second, and then it just stopped. It was like a little hiccup or something,” she said.

Bad Timing for Toyota

Regardless of the facts, dramatic images of yet another Toyota car involved in a runaway further undermines trust in the company’s products. The incident occurred only hours after Toyota completed a presentation intended to demonstrate that the electronics in its cars couldn’t be the cause of unwanted acceleration.

Toyota issued a press release on Tuesday to correct a Wall Street Journal report, which indicated that a new Prius recall was issued. According to the release, “There is no new recall being planned for the Prius to address this issue. To be clear, the 2004-2009 Prius was part of Toyota’s November 2, 2009 announcement of a voluntary safety recall campaign to address floor mat entrapment in certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles.”

On Monday, Toyota released a statement saying it had “dispatched a field technical specialist to San Diego to investigate the report and offer assistance.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also said it will examine the Prius. “An investigator is flying out to California to examine the car and look for potential causes,” Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said on Tuesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received about 50 complaints of runaway acceleration on the model Prius involved in the latest incident. More than 800,000 Priuses have been sold in the United States, since the hybrid went on the market in 2000.

As the story rippled throughout the Internet, web readers repeatedly expressed doubts about the veracity of Sikes’s story— many suggesting that he is an opportunist looking to take advantage of Toyota’s safety issues, others pointing to driver error as the root problem.


  • roccos

    He was ‘unable’ to shift into neutral? Herein lies the problem. The tiny shifter knob is just too sophisticated, delicate, and obtuse to THROW INTO NEUTRAL. Unlike the cars of the last century, the button on/off switch, the tiny bouncy springy shifter knob – is not intuitive for shifting into neutral in an emergency. For one thing, the display is on the dash but the lever has PNR indicator marks. which do you look at?
    Toyota needs to put out training aids to owners on how to shift this type of car into neutral in an emergency. (hold the shifter knob to the left for 4 or 5 seconds)
    An emergency runaway incidient is not the time to learn.

  • Dale Thorpe

    Every owner of a Toyota with a push button ignition needs to install a coil kill switch commonly used on some alarm systems.

    This would kill power to the ignition while leaving power to the remainder of the car.

    Your Toyota dealer will most likely not proved this to you but most
    Alarm installation shops should be able to do this fix quickly.

  • blooger

    yes but the point is he didn’t even attempt to shift into neutral and it’s not like he wasn’t familiar with the car. He said he was afraid that shifting into neutral would shift it into reverse, I don’t know any car that does that.

  • Anonymous

    i agree the transmission shifter is not typical and emergency situation isn’t the time to learn how to operate a car, but isn’t it the responsibility of the driver to learn BASIC functions of their vehicle OR how to react in an emergency situation before operating a vehicle? We are living in an ever increasing “blame someone else” society where personal responsibility is no longer a requirement. What’s wrong with this picture?

    BTW neutral in a prius takes 2 to 3 sec at the most while holding the shifter to N position, not the most intuitive but not that difficult either. If that fails, the driver should know how to apply normal and emergency break together to stop the car. When all else does not work, know how to turn off the car by holding the On/off button!

    I think there is also a side lesson for Toyota here. Some people are still used to mechanical levers and switches. Perhaps an easy solution is to provide a warning message on how hold/pause operations or provide a little mechanical lever somewhere in the car. The latter probably would still not work for drivers who does not bother learning about their car before driving (i’ve seen drivers who do not know how to shift into neutral for automatic transmissions when car engine is off because some cars require releasing a small mechanical safety lock before shifter will move).

  • Charles

    If I were Toyota there would be software patches to do the following:
    1) If the power switch is hit, the throttle is closed and fuel is shut off. The car will not go into a full power off unless the car is stopped.
    2) If the parking break is applied the throttle is closed and fuel is set to idle.
    3) If the breaks are applied the throttle is closed and fuel is set to idle.
    4) If the power switch is hit, and the car is off and the car is moving above 10 MPH, to go to a full power on state even if the driver is not applying the breaks.
    I would not think this is that hard to do. One of the side effects would be to stop people from driving with the parking break on.

  • Dom

    Well, my list would include the following as #1:

    1. When the brakes are applied, slow the vehicle.

    I can’t fathom how Toyota can deny that electronics aren’t the cause of this problem! Of course they are! The engine is just doing what the computer tells it to. The computer (an electronic device) is the part that isn’t responding the the driver’s application of pressure to the brake pedal, or when the driver let up off the gas pedel, etc.
    My car has a drive by wire system too, so there is nothing wrong with the system per say. But I’m glad I still have a real key instead of a push button .And my car has a clutch pedal, so disengaging the engine from the wheels is fully under my control.

  • 38mpg

    blooger – “He said he was afraid that shifting into neutral would shift it into reverse, I don’t know any car that does that.”

    Pretty much all automatic cars would do that. When you are in the D position and when you try to go to N, a small miscalculation would put you in R. This has happened to one of my friends when he was traveling at around 60 Miles an hour. The car violently stopped in the middle of the highway.

  • barbara

    What if you turned the key to off and then right back to on again, so as not to lose the power steering and brakes. It would kind of be like rebooting the car and computer? Or even if you turned the key to the first level, where the battery power is available but the engine isn’t started. Thanks!

  • Jeff

    “Pretty much all automatic cars would do that. When you are in the D position and when you try to go to N, a small miscalculation would put you in R. This has happened to one of my friends when he was traveling at around 60 Miles an hour. The car violently stopped in the middle of the highway.”

    Newer cars won’t do that. You have to depress the brake to shift into reverse and, even then, it wouldn’t happen at 60 mph. Modern transmissions won’t allow the shift to reverse until your speed is very low.

    On older cars, shifing into reverse WILL NOT cause the car to skid or “stop violently”. It will slow down and probably stall the engine, which can be bad in and of itself.

  • Anonymous

    On an automatic car, the only way to go from D to R is through N. On every car that I’ve driven, you can’t get from N to R without hitting the button on the shifter. Anyone that’s spent more than 10 minutes driving an automatic should know that you don’t need to hit the button on the shifter to go from D to N. Just push up! The safety lockout keeps you from going to R.

  • Pat Au

    So far all these sudden acceleration claims had never mentioned the driver tried to use the shifter to disengage the engine from the wheels. No shifter malfunction was reported.
    I think at the emergency situation our heads can only think of using the brake to slow the car down!
    By the Anonymous is right all the car has a safty mechanism that prevent you sihft from drive to reverse, unless you press a safety button or move the sihfter sideway to the reverve position.

  • Ian Z

    Pure and simple, if his 911 call lasted 23 minutes, his story is bogus. If the accelerator had truly been stuck, he would have lost control of the car WAY before that and that car would be a mess.

    Especially if the car slowly came to a stop and didn’t stop abruptly, if he was depressing the brake and it finally kicked it, he would have skidded out of control at the last minute. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. I just wonder what his motive is. Attention? Does he have some beef with Toyota?

  • Bryan Underhill

    This is where people need to learn how cars operate. In my Prius (2001 at 223000 miles) I can shift from D to N by pushing on the lever and it will stop before going into reverse. To get reverse I have to additionally push the button on the end of the shifter. Every car I have ever driven has a similar feature. My Chevy S-10 stops at neutral as long as I only push up on the shifter. To get to reverse I have to push up and pull forward at the same time. But the average person seems oblivious to these safety features. This stuff needs to be taught in drivers ed.

  • john mag

    OH COME ON !! on his cell for twenty odd minutes ? and he couldn`t stop it or slow it down ? this guy is full of it… how gullible can you be ? oh that`s tight…this is amurka

  • AP

    Being an automotive engineer (for GM), there are some things I know, and some I don’t. Take this for what it’s worth, then look it up if you know an appropriate reference.

    To those who say he should have “put it in neutral,” there are two issues:

    1) the selector is electronic, so there is no mechanical link to the transmission to tell it to go into “neutral” (as some have noted), but also
    2) the Prius transmission has no real “neutral.” Having no clutches in the transmission to unhook the engine and motors from the axles, selecting “neutral” means the computer matches the engine and motor speeds to make the car “act” like it’s in neutral.

    I have no idea what the programming is in the Prius, as far as when it will let you select what, but in any case, the computer(s) is (are) in control. This guy might be lying, probably doesn’t read his owner’s manual, but he might be right.

    As far as turning off the key or switch, most of you know there is no key, but also the switch/button doesn’t “power down” the system like cars used to. The on/off switch is a primary request to the computer to shut off the system, which the computer interprets and will activate (or deactivate) actual switches to control power. Whatever the driver was trying to do, the outcome depended on what the programming is in his Prius.

    Again, I don’t know what the logic used is: I’ve read where you have to push the button for three seconds, someone wrote that you also had to be below 50 mph for it to shut down.

    The lesson is to know your car and think ahead. Read the owner’s manual and imagine you’re in a situation like this: what would you do? Student pilots routinely have power yanked on their plane by their instructor, and routinely find a place to land, line up for an emergency landing, and only get power back once they’re nearly on the ground.

    People are creatures of habit. If you don’t develop “emergency procedures” when you’re calm, it’s really difficult when you’re in a panic.

  • Barry W

    This whole incident sounds very strange to me.

    Just a couple of comments to make:

    1. The parking/emergency brake uses most of the same braking components that the foot brake uses. When you put your foot on the brake, the rear (aka hand/emergency) brakes are also applied. And generally with more force than can be achieved with a mechanical linkage, if such a thing still exists in a Toyota these days! Plus, a mechanical linkage is not under the supervision of the ABS system. Engaging the parking/emergency brake is a guaranteed way of locking the rear wheels (with resultant poorer braking) and cause the vehicle to become unstable.

    2. The folks over at the Myth Busters “proved” that putting a car into reverse will not work.

    http://mythbustersresults.com/episode84

    I suspect ulterior motives.

  • hmmm

    This reeks of out and out fraud. The whole episode seems staged from the get-go. From Sikes visiting his local dealer knowing his vehicle was not on recall for brake issues to asking his wife to throw in a word about a brief acceleration episiode a couple of weeks back. Sounds like when a criminal is building an alibi. In addition, the brakes were working as evidenced by the fact that brake material was strewn all over the place where the car came to a stop. What might have happened is our man was hitting the accelerator and brakes at the same time to keep the car going leading to burnt out brakes.
    How is it that we now have a whole bunch of creepy folks coming out of the woodwork to get their share of the Toyota class action lawsuit windfall that might be coming? In addition, the entire story about Toyota reeks of an effort by the US to discredit the top Japanese automaker to benefit American automakers. Hey, if you can’t compete on product, try and get lawyers involved.

  • Kalo

    Jeff,

    I have personally shifted a ’73 Gremlin from N to R at high speed. It certainly was possible to do in these older cars. Maybe it can’t be done now, but it ‘worked’ then. I was young, stupid and careless in a way I have not been since.

    The car did not ‘slow down’: it went from 80 mph to dead in the lane in the space of about 2 seconds. It left long, ugly skid marks down the lane, scared the idiot behind the wheel quite badly and marked the last time that transmission worked properly.

  • AP

    hmmm (if indeed that is your real name), I know people are suspicious of the domestic auto companies, one of whom I work for, to be whipping up this whole mess along with the government. You know, the same government that treated us like crap on Capitol Hill, hypocritically criticized us for usinng corporate jets (as opposed to taxpayer-paid jets), and took no responsibility for creating a difficult environment in which to both be based and sell cars.

    Yeah, they’re really on our side….

    Besides, many frivolous lawsuits have been brought against the domestics, and I’ve heard little sympathy for that on this site. We even had NBC stage a fire in one of our trucks! It appears to be Toyota’s turn on the dunking stand.

    Plus, domestic automakers have a lot to lose if Toyota gets hammered:

    1) More regulations to “prevent” problems that plague Toyota (if there are real problems), but not us, and
    2) More money in the pockets of trial lawyers, which will fund more frivolous lawsuits against not only Toyota, but us – AND will mean more political contributions to politicians and judges who are plaintiff-friendly.

    So no, it doesn’t make sense for it to be the domestics causing this uproar. Look elsewhere.

  • scolas

    Sounds very fishy. I have an 04 Prius and the shift to neutral is very simple. I did it while driving around 70 on the freeway and the car immediately lost power. Even when I pushed on the accelarator pedal, I could not get the engine to rev (as a conventional engine would). Now it’s possible that this guy had a malfunction that would not allow the car to go to neutral, but that would be a separate malfunction from the fuel not shutting off when the gas pedal was lifted.

    Then you have the brakes. How could applying the brakes not slow the vehicle (when being applied for 23 minutes no less)? The brakes are much stronger than the wimpy engine even if it was at full throttle. Now I guess it is possible that the electronics which tell the brakes to be applied when the pedal is pushed could also have malfunctioned, but that would mean three separate malfunctions. And it wouldn’t explain all the brake pad dust around the rims which the CHP officer observed. So maybe that was already there from a few days earlier…like when he was pissed at the dealer for not giving him a new floor mat.

    My guess is the tax liens/bankruptcy filing is the heart of the story. That and whether we next see his lawyer filing suit vs Toyota. It’s much easier than winning the lottery again….

  • Jeff

    Just passing on info from people who know much more than I do. Also, I have personal experience. The shifter of a 70s era Vega my mother had was bumped into reverse at 40 mph – the car slowed and the engine stalled. There were no lockups or other violent happenings.

  • DownUnder

    Very fishy. I don’t trust a word from that man.
    The brake dust can be there BEFORE. Who can confirm that?

  • Anonymous

    Balloon boy take #2!

    The body language on this guy tells a lot, just look at them shifty eyes… lol

  • Anonymous

    Total fraud. There is nothing wrong with the Prius.

  • Mr.Bear

    I have a tough time beliving this guy’s story.

    First indicator, the “Corvette Owners Club” logo on the back of his jacket. I suspect dude got caught driving 90mph and then it was, “Oh yeah, the accelerator is stuck. Somebody help me please….”

  • Scott Thomas

    Runaway Cars gas pedal that get stuck to floor mats? Or is it in the computer system I don’t know but it is truly scary. I had a recall on my car which is made in USA (Pontiac G8) I found out on http://www.carpedalrecall.com I had friends and co workers also discover their cars had a recall maybe not a serious recall but a recall none the less, and really what recall isn’t serious. They recalled the car for a reason.. People should be more aware of the ghost in their machines.

  • Barry W

    Kalo/Jeff

    An automatic transmission has a viscous coupling, a manual transmission a friction clutch. Both should be the weak points in the transmission in the event the vehicle is moved from forward to reverse or vise versa. An automatic transmission should be able to handle the change better than a clutch but in either case, a huge amount of energy has to be dissipated.

  • Collin Burnell

    Did anyone else catch the license plate:

    FRUGL O8

  • Barry W

    Kalo/Jeff

    An automatic transmission has a viscous coupling, a manual transmission a friction clutch. Both should be the weak points in the transmission in the event the vehicle is moved from forward to reverse or vise versa. An automatic transmission should be able to handle the change better than a clutch but in either case, a huge amount of energy has to be dissipated.

  • AP

    Barry W, as I noted above, the Prius is neither a manual or an automatic. It has no torque converter, no fluid coupling, no clutch. The engine does not “unhook” from the powerflow when neutral is selected on the shifter. The computer coordinates the speeds of the engine and motors to make it seem like neutral.

    As far as I know there is no way for the driver to force the engine to decouple from the wheels. It’s up to the electronics.

    This guy could very well be making this up. It’s just not so simple (or meaningful) to say you should put it into neutral.

    Full disclosure: I work for GM. But this info is available on “How Stuff Works” if you’re interested in what you’re driving.

  • Ron Hanson

    Read story with interest. Was a past member of CCM (Corvette Club of Mich) and Auto Engr who believes story is false. Maybe Totota has a problem, not sure but do NOT believe story.

    Read with interest all of the comments and considering this man’s story, simply do not believe. I’ve heard the comments/video on the news. He must have an “ax-to-grind” with Toyota and doing this will help in the class-action lawsuit, to be filed later. Hearing his comments regarding not shifting into neutral as asked by phone operator….. if I have it correct…… he said both hands had to be on steering wheel to contol auto. Question is: how could he talk on cell phone to operator for more than 20 min and steer auto? Sounds like a phony story. Ron

  • Bill

    For the phone call maybe he was using Bluetooth. I too though remember how he said he couldn’t take his hands off the wheel to try to put the car in neutral but I also heard he said he tried to unstick the accelerator. You can reach down to the accelerator but can’t reach a couple of inches to the right?

  • anonymous

    Applying pressure to the brake pedal applies pressure to the hydraulic brake fluid via the master cylinder which in turn extends the pistons in the calipers creating a clamping force between the friction linings and the rotors. I fail to see where there is a computer or electronic device no responding there. Ignore the regenerative braking on a Prius. Yes, it’s there, but by LAW there is a purely hydro-mechanical connection between what the driver’s foot does and what the brakes at the wheels do AND by LAW those brakes must be able to overcome the full power of the engine.

    Ignoring all the other possibilities (turn the car off, put it in neutral, etc) all this guy had to do to stop his car was firmly grasp the steering wheel and try and push his brake pedal through the floor and never let up on it. I bet his stopping distance would have been less than 300 feet from 90 mph.

  • Hanna

    looking to his eyes I can see that he is not telling the truth. It is so Obvious…

  • Burton

    It’s all very simple. The man is a liar. Why isn’t that obvious to everyone who’s seen his interview.

  • Jez

    I’m looking for hard evidence without destroying my own Prius that shutting off the POWER button would do the trick. Here’s what I know for sure:

    There are times when I park the car, that I bring the car to a full stop with my foot on the brake, then I sometimes forget to hit the park button, and instead go directly to the power button, which shuts off the car.

    Shouldn’t this happen when the accelerator is running as well? I mean, the car is in drive. Other Prius owners, do you have experience with this?

  • AP

    anonymous, I don’t think it’s law that you have to have enough braking force to overcome maximum engine+motor output. It is our practice from what I understand (at GM) and it is what NHTSA assumes. Law? Not so sure.

    Aside from that, when ABS (anti-lock brakes) act, they do change the pressure that is put to the actual brake calipers, usually reducing it to avoid lock-up. If ABS fails (goes inactive), it’s true that you have a direct hydro-mechanical link between your foot and the brakes. However, if the electronics decide otherwise, this could be defeated. I’ve never heard of anyone mentioning ABS noises during one of these events, but most people aren’t probably concentrating on that right then.

    This is part of the trade-off we make everyday in our lives: get ABS and make your vehicle safer on slick roads that you may often experience, but increase the chance that, under unlikely circumstances, an electronic issue COULD cause an issue.

    Of course, this probably did not happen here, but it’s best not to assume too much when preparing for emergencies.

    The only absolutely unalterable connection you have to the brakes is the parking brake cable, and of course if you yank on that too hard, you can do a J-turn. So if you ever have to use it hard, do it smoothly and keep the car pointed straight.

  • Steve McIntryre

    Agree with you on the Fraud front – I saw his TV interview he was so obviously lying – looking away from camera choosing his word very carefully – what a bottom feader. Not only has he filed for bankruptcy I would not be surprized if he was behind or in default of his car payments. Since he will not be suing Toyota he is hoping that they will cancel this out. Hysterical Local congressman Daryl Issa should be standing over the judges that release Sex Offenders into our community and not trying to get headlines standing over an inspection that the Govenrment Safety experts are taking care of. He should also pour shame on and investigate the IL Professor (for misleading the public at the Congressional Hearings) who rigged a circuit board to simulate unintended acceleration – this is not representative of the vehicle electronics. Of course Sikes brakes are going to be shot to pieces – if I put my fat frame on the brake pedal and accelerator simulaneously I would get the same result in my Audi. When is the Japanese government going to stand up against this BS..we need to stop low lifes like Sikes who cannot go out and earn a decent days living by making an example of him – after all what happened to baloon boys parents? same deal I think

  • DownUnder

    You don’t even need a lie detector for this man.
    Borrow a phrase from Bob Lutz: “This is a crock of sh*t”

  • heyreb

    The guy said he was scared to put car in neutral because it might flip the car, come on he was wearing a corvette hat, he knows what happened and is enjoying the publicity until his financial situation came out. Let’s go polygraph

  • xway

    If you don’t trust your ability to move a gearshift lever from D into N, out of fear you’ll mistakenly put it into R, then you probably shouldn’t be driving. Who knows what mistakes you’ll make with the other controls. Intend to steer right but turn the wheel left?

  • James Sikes

    I forgot to mention to police that I was too afraid to let off gas because I’d not be able to sue toyota to get out my current financial hole… LOL

  • Steve McIntyre

    Jalopnik.com has a great bit of investigative journalism on this scumbag bottom feeder..$700 K in the toilet, $24K in default payments to Toyota Financial Services Adult Swing Site owner – game over Sikes

  • Tess

    As a Prius owner I thank you so much for that indepth answer and you have me reading my “Owner’s Manual” as I have never read one before.

  • LP

    I own a 2010 Prius bought in June 2009, one of very first in my state. Will it get recalled for accelerator/brake problems? I have not received anything.

  • richtr

    Interesting how much clearer things are behind one’s computer keyboard than the wheel of a runaway Prius. So clear that the yet to be released results of the inspection of Mr. Sikes car are unnecessary, since he’s clearly a lying, shifty eyed, publicity seeking ignoramus: He didn’t read his owners manual, didn’t train for emergency situation, didn’t shift into neutral, stepped on both the brake and accelerator etc. While I don’t have the talent to determine his eye shifting indicates lying not an off camera distraction, I am able to read the owners manual included in our 2008 Prius. It’s around 500 pages of sometimes poorly translated, often confusing and occasional contradictory advice. Nowhere does it mention procedures to deal with runaway acceleration. In fact the very first entry under “Driving procedures CAUTION” on page 124 states, “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.”

    Mr. Sikes may in fact have read and believed the manual. Buried within this section is the only reference to an emergency situation which is to press and hold the “Power” button for 3 seconds … not exactly an intuitive reaction.

    People don’t always respond correctly in an emergency situation they’ve never faced, even with training. Remember the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407? The captain responded to a stall warning (stick shaker) incorectly, not by lowering the nose to increase speed but instead pulled the nose up, stalled the plane and killed 50 people.

    I do agree that the Prius is so unique that Toyota should do more to educate it’s customers. The dealer rep who delivered our car was not familiar and couldn’t explain more than the most basic information needed to drive the car off the lot.

    Hoax or not? I get all the exercise I need jumping to conclusions.

  • Pete

    Remember the Pepsi syringe in the can scare? Or the thumb in the Wendy’s chili?

    This guy is a fraud! He filed bankruptcy in 2008, is 5 months behind on his Prius car payments and is trying to scam Toyota by claiming his accelerator pedal is stuck. That’s NOT the issue with the Prius! Has NEVER been the issue!

    Toyota has got to expose this guy as a fraud and NOW! Remember the Tylenol scare? This is a fraud!

  • Priusowner

    38mpg “Pretty much all automatic cars would do that. When you are in the D position and when you try to go to N, a small miscalculation would put you in R. This has happened to one of my friends when he was traveling at around 60 Miles an hour. The car violently stopped in the middle of the highway.”

    Well wasn’t that what he was attempting to do, stop?

  • Priusowner

    Barbara, no key remember? All of you forget the mans swingers web site unimportant. The fact is that he did not try to put it into neutral as the 911 operater kept telling him. He did not actually do anything that was suggested by her. she had also already told him to push his emergency brake and he did not try this rither until the cop told him through the PA system. I have watched the videos by the news people that tried the different ways to stop a Prius and they worked.

  • Priusowner

    Yes, have done that before and the car stops as you say.

  • highrev2

    I do that a lot, throw it in neutral to coast down a hill (oops is that lilegal). I drive and Escape Hybrid, push the brake and gas at the same time and it does a fail safe move to protect the trans/motor. I would be surprised if the Prius is not similar.

  • highrev2

    To Less NOx and other Prius owners,

    I think the brake is still partly mechanical, In fact my Escape Hybrid definatly has a mechanical component to it. The “electronic portion” is the beginning of the braking and light braking cycle, where the electric motor reverses polarity and becomes a dynamic vehicle brake. It dampens the speed by transferring the kinetic energy into electricity (via motor) to re-charge the battery. As you depress the pedal harder the hydraulic (mechanical) brakes come into effect and actually push the brake pads to the rotor to physically slow the vehicle. In fact the Prius re-call (similar to Fords Fusion Hybrid recall) is to reprogram the “feel” of the change over from one to the other.

    The Escape Hybrid has an electric powered brake booster, identical to the type used in heavy ford trucks for years (trucs under 26,000lbs with hydraulic brakes). If I get in my truck anthout the key in the ignition and depress the brake, I hear the electric motor build pressure to assist the hydraulic brakes. If you have a Prius please go out and try this, put your mind at ease.

    I doubt any manufacturer would leave the brakes completely up to the computer.

  • Anonymous

    richtr

    in the same manual you’ll find there is also instructions to turn off the hybrid system during an emergency. the point is neutral is just one of many ways to stop the car, and mr james ignored numerous direct request by 911 to shift to neutral.

    i think people recognized there are way more inconsistencies beyond reasonable doubt to discredit his story than consistencies.

  • DownUnder

    AP, you’re an eng, so if the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time, will the car (any car, not just the Prius) slow down if it’s traling at 90 MPH? If ti does , how far will it travel before it stops?

  • Mike Landis

    You don’t need a kill switch, all you need to do is step on the brake pedal. When you do this, the engine goes to an idle and the car comes to a stop. It’s that simple.

  • Mike Landis

    If you are moving more than 5 mph and put it in reverse by accident, it just goes into neutral. The same thing happens on the Camry, Avalon, Tundra, Highlander….all Toyotas…That is newer ones with electronic transmissions.

  • AP

    sean t, you asked if the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time, will the car slow down from 90 mph. My answer (being an engineer not knowing all the details) is “it should stop.”

    If everything is working properly, and the driver does things right, the brakes should be able to overcome the power to the axles. Someone said Car and Driver did a story on this recently and found that most cars stopping distance is increased substantially, but you can still stop. However, there are complicating factors:

    1) IF the throttle (on the engine) is stuck wide open, the engine produces little vacuum to assist the brakes. Under those conditions, you can depress the brakes 2-3 times with full assist (from the stored vacuum), then you may run out and not be able to brake hard unless the throttle closes down.

    2) If you wait until you’re doing 90 MPH, and don’t stop the car “assertively,” but ride them for some distance, you could overheat the brakes, which causes them to fade (the brake fluid boils and makes the pedal go mushy – this is common in amateur racing). Once the brakes are overheated, it may be a while before you can brake hard again. It’s best to brake hard once and bring the car to a stop. Braking from 90 to zero produces 4 times the heat of braking 45 to zero.

    Mike, why are you saying that when you step on the brake, the engine goes to idle? That might be true when disengaging cruise control, but if your foot’s on the throttle or the throttle is somehow being erroneously opened by electronics, I don’t see how that’s necessarily true. Remember that the complaints are that something is malfunctioning, so typical behavior is no longer typical.

    The main thing to remember is that IF this is a real problem and IF this happens to you, you can mechanically pop manuals and automatics into neutral and coast to a stop (if the engine rev’s, who cares?). On the Prius, not putting power to the axles is still up the electronics, there being no mechanical way to shut off power. Brake hard ONCE to zero (to save your vacuum) and when you’re nearly stopped, pull the parking brake (which is mechanical), to keep it there.

    Sikes’ story sounds fishy to me (con job?), but that doesn’t mean there is no problem in other cases. Plus, you should always know what to do when things go wrong. This goes for ALL CARS.

  • Anonymous

    what’s also interesting is sikes ended up shutting off the car after slowing down (to 50 mph?) but not before completely stopping. this suggests to me he does know how to stop but somehow didn’t chose to do so 20 min earlier

  • BisMan

    I doubt the veracity of this story. If the accelerator was stuck, the speed of the car would exceed 90 MPH. If he was riding the brakes, there would be evidence of glazing of the pads or rotor and there would have been a distinct smell.

    Also, the push button on/off switch on my car (not Toyota) bothers me. I have tried turning it off while going 30 MPH on an empty straight road. The computers ignores my “request”. I do do know how to shift to neutral, so I don’t think I’ll ever have an unintended acceleration issue.

  • Ross Becker

    I am an electronics engineer. I have been driving a Prius for 5 years & 70,000km.
    I have read every technical article I can find on the car’s design & think I understand a lot on how the car “thinks”.

    There are several point that I think are relevant.
    1 The car is a computer system on wheels. It looks & behaves like a “normal” car – but is not.
    2 It has no key.
    3 It has no gearbox – it’s always in top gear. At lower speeds it’s primarily driven by the electric motors. At higher speeds it’s primarily driven by the gas engine.
    4 It has no clutch.
    5 It has no reverse gear (it can’t have – see 3 above). Reverse is 100% electric – it reverses the direction of it’s electric traction motor.
    6 You can use the “gear selector” & change from forwards to reverse & vice versa when the car is moving. I do it all the time when parking. It doesn’t need an interlock like a mechanical gearbox does.
    7 There is a mechanical linkage between the brake pedal & the wheel brakes. The computers monitor the brakes. When the brake pedal is depressed lightly & the car is travelling at more than about 5km/hr the braking is wholly regenerative (ie the car’s momentum charges the battery so slowing it down.) If you press the brake pedal HARD the mechanicals work (as well as the regenerative).
    8 The accelerator is connected to the cars computers. There’s no direct mechanical connection to the engine.
    9 If you try and depress both the accelerator & the brake at the same time, the accelerator has no effect, it’s disabled.
    10 The foot operated parking brake is mechanically coupled to the wheel brakes. (I’m not sure whether there’s a separate set of disc pads for this or not.)
    11 In ALL cars, the braking power (in hp or kw equivalent) is always about 5 times the engine power. You can stop from a given speed about 5 times faster than you can accelerate to that same speed. This means that in a “normal” car you can ALWAYS stop if both accelerator & brake are depressed together, but taking somewhat longer (like 20%).
    12 In the Prius, the brake booster isn’t driven by engine manifold vacuum but by its own electric motor so brake fade because of loss of booster is not relevant.

    I trust this is a bit helpful.

  • Anonymous

    BisMan, your worries reminded me of the time when airbus went to fly by wire system, similar questions have came up. it’s a healthy debate. just like watches, there will always be people who like analog watch vs digital ones. I’m kind of half and half myself (e.g. don’t like the digital speedometer on the prius but like other electronic components)

  • AP

    Ross, good info. I didn’t know it had non-vacuum brakes, but it makes sense – the engine isn’t always running to provide vacuum, and when it does run, it’s usually near wide-open throttle, low speed, to maximize fuel economy (which also creates little vacuum).

  • Elise

    Mr. Sikes’ body language strongly suggests that he is not telling the truth. He continually shifts his eyes away from the interviewer as if dodging. Nor do the specifics of his story make sense. In 20 minutes, he could not bring himself to shift into neutral or press the PowerOff button or to engage the emergency brake? And he’s been driving the Prius for how many years? Then why? Well, try following the money:

    Two years ago, Sikes filed for bankruptcy in San Diego. Documents show he was more than $700,000 in debt and owed Toyota $19000 for his Prius, his sole remaining car. Toyota was listed as a $19,000 creditor, the value of the leased Prius, which has to be returned. Sikes’ bankruptcy court filing showed he also owed $115,000 on 16 credit cards:
    http://jalopnik.com/5491101/did-bankrupt-runaway-prius-driver-fake-unintended-acceleration

  • Fraud In His Face

    If you look at where he stopped the car (in the fast lane, not off into the roadway shoulder), one more point that it’s a hoax. Look at his background and his face pose (a perfect “salesman”). Furthermore, read “between the lines” at his wife’s statement about the car’s safety a few weeks earlier. See how concerned (or lack there of) she is with her husband’s safety. All this said, I don’t mean that Toyota does not have a potential acceleration or brake problem. Anytime someone relies on a computer for critical items like brakes, knowing the reliability (or lack there of) of computer software and hardware, they are “asking for it.”

  • Birdy

    The fact that neither Toyota or NHTSA can not find a problem with the man’s Prius is NOT proof that the clame is fraudulent. If it was an easy problem to find Toyota would have found it well before the cars entered production.

  • TSvi Epstein

    I have a 2005 Prius. I have verified that putting the car in “N” while moving disengages the throttle…that is the engine will not accelerate while in “N”, even if pressing on the throttle pedal. And then the car stops easily…maybe without regenerative braking.

    I have pushed the on/off button while moving; it is ignored and the car continues to operate normally. In the above comments it is stated that pressing for 3 seconds will turn off the car. I have not tried this.

    One can also put a Prius in “B” while moving. This in effect puts the car in a lower gear and one can use engine compression to slow the car. I often do this when entering a long down hill to avoid needing to use the brakes…just as truck drivers do. It keeps the car in control and saves the brake pads…but maybe wears to engine more as it can spin at a high rpm doing this (no tach on the Prius, so not sure how fast, but it sounds like over 3k rpm at times).

    I have never had a hint of a run away situation, but if I did, putting the Prius in “N” would definitely seem to be an easy and effective counter action.

  • Anonymous

    TSvi Epstein, the key question in the B gear is: does it limit the car to a low upper speed limit when accelerator is stuck like gears 1 and 2 in automatic? My understanding is no, but i could be wrong.

  • jagwal

    Should this guy really be expected (legally) to have attempted all of the hindsight trouble shooting measures you nay-sayers have suggested? It is not a routine driver’s responsibility to do precautionary research on what to do if his / her car gets a mind of its own. The second this thing failed to stop, much less continued to accelerate – Toyota is liable. The only thing this guy is guilty of is not having a crystal ball and a time machine so he could “try out” all of these “solutions” offered by bloggers trying to prove how smart they are.

  • AP

    jagwal, I believe the term for what you’re describing is being “dead right.” Tires should never blow out, people should never pull out in front of you, and you should never have to take preventive or evasive action because of it. You may be “in the right” when you have the fatal accident, but you’re still dead.

    If you take that attitude, you are also putting your life in someone else’s hands all the time. I’d rather do the 20 minutes of research on what to do in emergencies and be ready – just in case.

  • Anonymous

    jagwal: yes, legally he’s expected to know how to operate the vehicle (know how to shift to neutral, apply emergency brake, turn off engine, all if necessary). it’s called knowing basic vehicle operations before getting a license. it’s also called something i like to call personal responsibility.

  • Tracy

    I am the owner of a 2008 Prius and I love it. I’ve never had a problem whatsoever, but apparently because of these reports and the Toyota recall, my insurance jumped this past year by almost 150.00 per year. I can’t understand why such a huge increase for a small economical car that is also helping the environment. I found some really good safety ideas at http://www.acdcind.com to go along with a short dissertation to my insurance company to ask them to reassess the premiums on these cars, however its stories like these that end up costing us honest people the most.

  • Tracy

    I am the owner of a 2008 Prius and I love it. I’ve never had a problem whatsoever, but apparently because of these reports and the Toyota recall, my insurance jumped this past year by almost 150.00 per year. I can’t understand why such a huge increase for a small economical car that is also helping the environment. I found some really good safety ideas at http://www.acdcind.com to go along with a short dissertation to my insurance company to ask them to reassess the premiums on these cars, however its stories like these that end up costing us honest people the most.

  • Mr.Bear

    If true, it’s time you find a new car insurance company. Especially since the most sensational claim (Jim Sikes) was proven to be a hoax.

    As for the other recalls, all the floormats should have been changed and all the gas pedals cut shorter.

    If it was me, I’d call my agent and tell him to knock the premium back down or I’d find other insurance.

  • Tracy

    Mr. Bear – I did end up talking to a new insurance agent. I provided him with my recall history, the same safety list that I found on http://www.acdcind.com and a few other quotes on the Prius in other areas of the country. Apparently this area has changed a few underwriting rules and our premiums are a lot higher. I did get a quote back from him that is about 120.00 less than what I was paying, so I’m going to switch agents. Just wanted to update you that the increase is apparently across the board on all cars, not just my Prius.

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