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Drive-By-Wire
Posted: 12 February 2010 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I was chatting with someone, who said something interesting; “runaway cars” are nothing new, and everyone should know how to safely get out of the situation (e.g. shift to neutral, pull over, shut off). He said throttle cables can sometimes fray and get stuck in the cable housing, it’s something that can happen on ANY brand or make of car. Interesting to know! Especially for cars that don’t have brakes that override the gas, as mentioned by VYAZMA in a previous post.

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Posted: 12 February 2010 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Throttle Cables are almost obsolete now. Accelerator pedals are now just “joysticks” or footpedals that tell a computer what to do. Carburetors are almost obsolete now too. So you push the pedal with your foot and it sends a signal to a computer which activates servos or electronic actuators in your fuel injection system. The computer also automatically adjusts so many other factors regarding acceleration, deceleration, fuel economy, traction, etc..
These systems are nothing new. They are highly preferable compared to the older systems.
Jules without getting into the spreadsheet of the National Auto Industry, I would like to reply to your other post concerning American vs. Foreign. Real Simple.
The US bails out it’s own companies. Chrysler and GM. Lot’s don’t like this, but that’s the way it is. It’s called National Interest. The US wouldn’t bail-out Toyota, or KIA if they were in trouble.
The fact of the Mexican/Canadian partnership with the US auto makers is nothing new. It was strengthened by NAFTA. This is supposedly in our Nations best interest. So on these merits alone, these Canadian/Mexican partnerships are acceptable.(personally I’m against the Mexican Part, but oh well-in for a penny in for a pound!)
I already mentioned above that the US makers did have a dark period, that’s understood. That allowed these foreign makers to get market share. This hurts our country. Yes it does!
The foreign auto workers in this country are all non-union. It is slowly degrading our Nation. It trickles down, and makes acceptable an 8.50/hr job at Wal-Mart.
GM and Ford, and Chrysler are American Companies. They started the automobile universe as we know it. Toyota is a Japanese company-plain and simple. It’s final analysis, end run interests are Japanese. There’s much more to all this, but that’s a nutshell for you.
In advance of any predictable rebuttals I will say that many new economists are questioning the extent to which World wide markets are beneficial to our citizens right here in this country. The citizens you have to live side-by-side with.

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Posted: 13 February 2010 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Hello all,

Ahh, a nice tech. topic!

I see some foggy statements and confusions in the thread, let me
try to clear-up some of it.  I have years of experience as an
Electrical/Firmware Engineer, I teach engineering at my local
community college and also at a local university, and although
I haven’t worked in the automobile industry and so do not know
all the industry-insider details, I have designed with many of
the same technologies and techniques that they use.

First some history…

Cars like so many other devices, are going digital. First came the
weird hybrid electro-mechanical “electronic carburetor” (circa
1970’s), and then the snowball grew from there.  Drive-by-wire,
that’s been slowly progressing for decades now, the last car part
that people are willing to make digital is the steering wheel,
naturally.  The engines, gas pedal, brakes, dashboard, air-bags,
locks, windows, radios, ignition switch have been digital for a
long time now.  The transmissions were slow to go digital, but
automatics are digital now-a-days (allowing you to shift them
“manually”).  The steering wheel will be the last to go digital.

Goofy steering wheels…

I’ll be happy when we finally get rid of that big goofy steering
wheel, that large only because you needed the extra leverage to
steer the cars of a hundred years ago.  Wouldn’t you like a nice
variety of digital user interfaces to choose from?  Maybe steer
with a track ball, a joystick/yoke, the young people of today
will obviously be choosing a game pad.

What is digital?...

Electronic controls based on microprocessors/microcontrollers/DSP,
that’s what I mean.  Why digital?  Because it (well initially it
was) cheaper, faster, easier to repair, little (if any) maintenance
(which means that it is more reliable), smarter, more precise,
more sophisticated, when compared to a mechanism.  Mechanisms are
capable of giving you the same features, but they will be heavier,
less reliable, require lubrication, require adjustments, will be
slower, and will be more expensive when comparing apples to apples.

More expensive…

Electronics are NOT making cars more expensive, if electronics
have grow to 50% of the cost of the car, then that is because
of all the lovely features that cars have now-a-days that they
never had with the pricey mechanical systems.  Please compare
apples to apples.  Compare the cars of today with a 1970’s car,
but add mechanical anti-lock brakes, remote start, automatic
windows/locks, air-bags, etc.

What is a car in 2010, what is an ECM…

GM calls their engine computers Engine Control Modules.
It replaced the carburetor/distributor but does more.  In place
of the carburetor it: 1) monitors the engine speed, 2) monitors
the gas pedal setting, 3) adjusts the amount of air intake and 4)
adjusts the amount of gasoline intake to cause the engine to spin
at the commanded speed.  They do lots more than that now-a-days
with oxygen, knock, wheel speed, etc.  And the manufactures could
very well choose to add more than one computer to do all the work.
The automatic transmission is normally handled separately.
These computers give you all the digital features listed above,
they are networked together inside the walls of your car, a
different sort of network than the Internet.

No gods, no perfections, we are all human…

But no technology is perfect, and in engineering if you increase
any one feature then there will _always_ be a trade-off that
impacts another feature.  If you want all the lovely features of
today’s cars, then they might cost more, more parts mean more
repairs than fewer parts, and a big bad data-driven computer
network does require the power to operate it meaning bigger
batteries/alternator, for example.

Fail-safes?...

There are some ways to make a device so that when it fails
to operate properly it only does relatively harmless things.
For example when your battery powered clock runs out of power,
it simply stops and your schedule is destroyed.  But when your
battery operated smoke detector is low-on-power, it chirps at
you, destroying your content peace-and-quiet.  Which one is the
safer failure?  Fail-safes can be gray and foggy, but they can
also be crystal clear.  Engineers are well aware of them, and
utilize them appropriately.  But how many are appropriate?  Well,
if you want a thousand fail-safes, back-up systems with by-pass
switches, and all that goodness, then there is a trade-off, they
will add to the cost and development time, and how many of you will
spend the time/money to test and repair the ailing back-up system?
Fail-safes are not as simple as YES I want it!

Cars do have fail-safes, if your engine spins too fast, approaching
the mechanical limits, you computer kindly ignores the gas
pedal/ignition key and shuts the engine down.  (I have it on good
authority that the 1991 Pontiac Grand AM ECM shuts the engine down
at 74 mph in second gear.  Don’t try that yourself.)  There will
be more of them built into the cars, I can’t give you a complete
list, but I doubt that the engineers simple neglected them.

Toyota?...

I don’t know, I hear some vagueness about floor mats jamming pedals
(not an electrical flaw), and humidity jamming the pedal (not
an electrical flaw), I think I’m hearing flawed information from
the journalists.  I don’t know what problems Toyotas engineers are
having, but I do know that if the engineers don’t gather or are
given some detailed and accurate information then they’ll just
be forced to take an educated guess at fixing it.  An educated
guess can work out, but if they had the problem in their hands
it would work out better.

Worried about cars?...

Ride a bike or walk instead, they are so much safer means of
transportation.  No mother ever told a child, “Don’t run out into
the street, you’ll be hit by bicycles and pedestrians!”

Limit testing…

In my driving experience, manual transmissions with un-powered
hydraulic clutches can be shifted with the engine off just
as normal.  But the powered hydraulic systems they stiffen very
quickly once the engine is off, and so you loose control of them if
the engine spins too fast, the computer shutting the engine off.
You loose control of the motorized windows/wipers also, when the
engine is off.  The parking cable engages the rear brakes only, in
an emergency that would lock the rear wheels and make a Hollywood
spectacle of your day, that is a very bad thing, beware.

Your computer(s) can run off the battery, but their
motors/solenoids take a significant amount of energy and might get
disabled in that mode.  I’ve run an engine off the battery alone
in a GM Pontiac, with the key in the RUN position, it works in
an emergency.  You can test that, make sure that your battery is
operating properly and has been charged (by running the engine)
recently, then just park the car with the engine OFF, carefully
unplug the alternator you might need to unlock the connector
with a flat screwdriver, and start the engine, finally see what
features work and what does not.  Knowing that about your car
can help you decide what is available to you in an emergency,
when you have almost no time to react, much less time to test.

Engine braking…

You do realize that when the car is moving and the engine is off,
engaging the transmission causes the momentum of the car to spin
the engine, this some adds resistance to your motion although
much less than brakes.  The higher gears produce more resistance,
and the lower gears produce less.  Your engine probably won’t
spin fast and consistently enough to give your electronics the
power that they need, when engine braking.

What about the bugs!?...

The only reason why you are seeing more bugs in the past decade
or two is because you have more features in your devices.
Computers have lots of features and so lots of bugs.  Mechanisms
have bugs too, if humidity is jamming gas pedals, then that’s
a bug.  The old mechanisms just have had less because they have
fewer features.  Simple firmware is very reliable, think of your
wrist watch, digital radio, microwave oven, digital refrigerator,
digital washing machine, these devices give you few features and
the thought of them having bugs never crossed your mind before
reading this.  They are very reliable!  grin

The future…

When cars go all electric they won’t need transmissions anymore
(a cost savings!) but then you’ll need lots of batteries or a
proper power grid to run the motor.  Reciprocating engines need
transmissions to make them more energy efficient, cars don’t need
transmissions anymore than trains do.

Conclusion…

Sorry that I can’t give specific information about the Toyota
problem.  But I hope that they background information helps people
to understand what’s happening.

[ Edited: 13 February 2010 11:55 AM by jump_in_the_pit ]
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Posted: 13 February 2010 01:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Only two comments:

I like the idea of a large steering wheel, not for the leverage, but for being able to make very small adjustments in direction.  The problem here isn’t with the electronics, but with human capabilities, that is, to make very precise and accurate small movements.

Second, I just spent $400 based on the most likely computer code, and got a two percent improvement in my car.  I’ll be going back in for them to take another crack at it, extimate $900 - $1,000.  I think I prefer the old time computer programs built into the brains of experienced mechanics.

Occam

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Posted: 13 February 2010 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Thanks, jump_in_the_pit, for the mini-education. That was very interesting!  grin

I admit I am woefully under-educated on cars. Oh well, at least I can drive stick-shift!  LOL (Although I have an automatic now - how boring.)

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Posted: 14 February 2010 10:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Well, Occam, I agree that a simpler set of controls is better for
drivers, they need to keep their eyes on the road.  The controls in
cars are going too far, like a kid-in-a-candy-store the automobile
companies are going overboard, IMHO.

I’m sorry about your repair bills, Occam.  People can’t see the
electrons, in the mechanical days technicians (auto mechanics,
plumbers, Mr. and Ms. Fixit, etc.) and amateurs could see the
mechanisms, see with their eyes how they worked and how they
were failing.  The technicians of today are supposed to probe the
connectors of the device, checking the signals and the error codes,
making sure that they are up to the specifications, narrowing down
the source of the error, and swapping in a new part once the bad
one is isolated.  This is quite different than technicians of
the past, and some of them are pining for the ol’ days.

Kindly and respectfully ask them to

  “focus on the errors that point them to a single source, not
  the more vague errors”.

Tell the technicians to focus because some of the error messages
are telling, but some are more misleading than they are helpful,
unfortunately, so it is easy for the technicians to get distracted
by curiosity or by a confusing error message.  Be careful that
they aren’t trying to do much reverse engineering, trying to
explore what is happening behind the connectors.  Beware that if
an electronic device is misbehaving badly enough, or there is a
electro-static discharge (a static shock, ESD) from a technician
who opened an enclosure, other devices beyond the original can
be harmed, so it is possible that more than one board needs to
be replaced.  There are repair manuals that technicians should
have studied.

  Ask your mechanics if they’ve studied the manuals, and if they
  are taking any precautions against ESD (a simple $15 wrist
  strap would be adequate).

The electronics can certainly be damaged by physical problems,
debris penetrating the enclosure, insulation torn from a wire,
condensation collecting inside an enclosure, etc.  A technician
can see some of these problems with their eyes, assuming they
can access the part easily.

I can’t give you the details about your repair Occam, I am sad
that you have the problems, I hope I’ve helped you somewhat.

————————————————————————————————————————

Jules, yeah, I had an ‘85 Honda Civic… that was nice because
the controls were all so simple, so basic, I could feel/hear
everything that the car did, it was a stick-shift, that was a
great car until the head gasket blew.  I shouldn’t have given
it up so soon.  Oh, well.  smile  I’m happier without any cars
in the end.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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The more complex a technology gets the more possible things that can go wrong.  A ‘57 Chevy could not malfunction because of a bug in the software.

The trouble with consumer products is that the manufacturers change them too often.  Redesign a product and things that were done right last year get screwed up.  I wonder when car thieves will be able to steal cars by making them start and drive off by themselves. LOL

You can never put enough von Neumann machines into automobiles.  The annoying thing is that with all of this processing power they can’t give meaningful error messages.  The 32 bit computer just turns on the CHECK ENGINE LIGHT.  Then you have to pay the dealer $200 to plug in another computer so the machine tells him that the oil is low.  LOL  They make things more complicated to hide more information so you can pay for ignorance.

I am surprised that I have never heard of people recording the radio signals from remote control door lockers and car starters.  But I guess most thieves are that sophisticated.  People that smart can get decent jobs.

psik

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Posted: 14 February 2010 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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jump_in_the_pit - 14 February 2010 10:01 AM

Jules, yeah, I had an ‘85 Honda Civic… that was nice because
the controls were all so simple, so basic, I could feel/hear
everything that the car did, it was a stick-shift, that was a
great car until the head gasket blew.  I shouldn’t have given
it up so soon.  Oh, well.  smile  I’m happier without any cars
in the end.

I had a Honda Civic Hatchback, too, in college. Late 80’s model stick shift, no power steering, no power anything. It was beige and it looked like a roller-skate.  LOL

Loved it, drove it cross country several times. Abused the heck out of it, and the roller-skate still kept rolling. Now my husband’s car is a Honda Civic, but they don’t make the hatchback anymore, only the little “mini-sedan” with the pointy looking funny front end. The hatchback by Honda has been replaced by the “Honda Fit” which is SO tiny! I test-drove one before settling on the Toyota Matrix, which is more of a wagon and had more room in the back for a kids booster seat.

Tinier than that is the Toyota Yaris (hatchback model) which looks like a little egg. A neighbor has that one, red, she looks so cute in the little thing. But when her husband’s car broke and he had to borrow it, he looked so funny hunched over in it!

Speaking of big guys in tiny cars, hubby and I saw a huge guy in a little Smart Car. He had skull and cross-bones stickers on it, as if to make it more menacing. This hulking figure gets out of the Smart Car, and comes into the sandwich shop where we are. A customer in line says “That sure is a tiny little car you’ve just gotten out of!” The huge menacing looking man turns to all of us in line and says in the gentlest southern accent, “I’m just securing my future, is all.”  grin This was at the time of record high gas prices, so we’re not sure if he meant securing his future financially, or securing the future of the planet. Either way, it was cute.

(Edited for typo)

[ Edited: 14 February 2010 02:02 PM by Jules ]
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Posted: 14 February 2010 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Jules - 12 February 2010 08:30 AM

I was chatting with someone, who said something interesting; “runaway cars” are nothing new, and everyone should know how to safely get out of the situation (e.g. shift to neutral, pull over, shut off). He said throttle cables can sometimes fray and get stuck in the cable housing, it’s something that can happen on ANY brand or make of car. Interesting to know! Especially for cars that don’t have brakes that override the gas, as mentioned by VYAZMA in a previous post.

That seems to me basic car handling skills, and points out one of the biggest, undiscussed problems we have with traffic: too many unskilled drivers on the road. There is no excuse for turning people loose in two-plus ton machines unless they have the knowledge and experience to handle their automobiles in emergencies. Last week one of the Austin television stations ran a story about a guy who borrowed his mother-in-law’s Toyota, and wrecked it when the throttle stuck while he was turning left on a green arrow. He had facial lacerations and a broken arm. C’mon, dude. You were accelerating through an intersection from a stop. All he had to do was pop the transmission in neutral and pull over. Modern cars have rev limiters, so he wouldn’t even hurt the engine.

There is no excuse for being unable to handle an automobile in an emergency. Unfortunately, our driving standards are so low that basic competence is not a requirement for getting a license.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 06:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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DarronS - 14 February 2010 11:21 AM
Jules - 12 February 2010 08:30 AM

I was chatting with someone, who said something interesting; “runaway cars” are nothing new, and everyone should know how to safely get out of the situation (e.g. shift to neutral, pull over, shut off). He said throttle cables can sometimes fray and get stuck in the cable housing, it’s something that can happen on ANY brand or make of car. Interesting to know! Especially for cars that don’t have brakes that override the gas, as mentioned by VYAZMA in a previous post.

That seems to me basic car handling skills, and points out one of the biggest, undiscussed problems we have with traffic: too many unskilled drivers on the road. There is no excuse for turning people loose in two-plus ton machines unless they have the knowledge and experience to handle their automobiles in emergencies. Last week one of the Austin television stations ran a story about a guy who borrowed his mother-in-law’s Toyota, and wrecked it when the throttle stuck while he was turning left on a green arrow. He had facial lacerations and a broken arm. C’mon, dude. You were accelerating through an intersection from a stop. All he had to do was pop the transmission in neutral and pull over. Modern cars have rev limiters, so he wouldn’t even hurt the engine.

There is no excuse for being unable to handle an automobile in an emergency. Unfortunately, our driving standards are so low that basic competence is not a requirement for getting a license.

I think the neighbor I was chatting with about the runaway cars was trying to convey a similar “moral of the story.” He said everyone should know what to do in these situations, that back in his days (he is an older gentleman) these things happened as well- malfunctions are not limited to electronic quirks.

What we may not be accounting for, however, is driver panic. In a situation where someone is panicking, they may not react rationally or think things through. A recent case with a Lexus stuck gas pedal, the driver was a state trooper (trained in driving in dangerous situations!) yet he did not think to put the vehicle in neutral. He did try to shut it off, but the push button ignition had to be held down for 3 seconds, and he was pressing it rapidly in a panic (And I’m not sure it would have shut off, while in “drive” anyway, sometimes there are safeguards to prevent that?)

Adding to the problem was the fact that it was not his normal car; it was a loaner car from the dealer while his own car was repaired. He was not familiar with the controls. Sadly he and his family in the car died in the crash, and the horrifying 911 call of the driver begging for help and then screaming was made public on the news. Even sadder, not even the 911 operator suggested putting the car in neutral. I will bet 911 operators are now being trained in what to do with a runaway car. Sad this had to happen for it to come to be.

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Posted: 14 February 2010 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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This is a sensitive topic because what happened to the trooper and his family is terribly tragic. However, looked at objectively, this case is 10 percent car failure and 90 percent driver error. The man picked up his cell phone and called 911 instead of taking control of the car he was driving. As you mentioned, this was a case of driver panic. Better driver training would prevent a lot of these tragedies, but unfortunately our society places very little value on driver training.

I am old enough to have taken driver education in high school. The semester was mostly a waste of time, but the one valuable lesson we received was to always be aware of what is happening around you and leave yourself an opening in case of emergencies. One girl in our class came to school mid-semester with both arms in half casts. Someone ran a red light in front of her and she used her arms to protect her head from slamming into the steering wheel (this was long before air bags and even before three-point seat belts in all cars). She looked like a deer in headlights when I said “If you had time to throw your arms in front of your face why didn’t you just steer around the other car?”

When my wife and I moved to California in the mid-1990s I decided to take advantage of the local race tracks and signed up for some motorcycle training classes taught by national champion and regional champion racers. I had been riding motorcycle for two decades and needed to learn proper skills to replace some self-taught bad habits I had acquired over the years. The most important lessons I learned were to be prepared, be smooth and always maintain control of your emotions. I also had the opportunity to practice emergency situations under controlled conditions and learn the proper responses to different situations. There is no substitute for practicing controlling your vehicle in slides. I recall one time getting into a nesty front end slide in coming out of Turn 2 at Laguna Seca. If I had backed off the gas my motorcycle would have come right out from under me, so I rolled on the throttle, spun the back tire and got the bike pointed on the proper line and made the corner. If I had panicked I would have had a badly damaged motorcycle and may have taken an ambulance ride to the local ER.

We need every licensed driver in this country to practice these situations away from public roads, but it will never happen. Our society is built around easily available cheap transportation, and one price we pay is thousands of preventable deaths each year.

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Posted: 17 February 2010 07:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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I’m sad about traffic tragedies.  Sad for the people who suffer.
And I wish everyone out there a safe trip.

<silliness>

But there is a silly site to panic.  I heard a cute joke about
panic…

There were two people standing in a room, it was an awful
situation.  The room is on fire, the building an inferno,
and their escape routes limited.  One spots the doorway and
calls to the other “Run for the door!” but just then CRASH the
ceiling collapses in front of the door, a fireball shoots from
the rubble, the doorway blocked and swallowed in flames!  So the
other says to the first one in a frightened and frantic voice,
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!  What are we going to do?!
The doorway is blocked, the fire is surrounding us, oh my god,
oh my god!  I think I’m starting to panic!  I think I’m starting
to panic!  What do we do!”  In a calm voice the first one says,
“Calm down, we’ve got to find another way out of here, we’ve got
to find a new way out.  This is no time to panic.  Look for a
window, or break through a wall with a chair, or do something
to to find a way out of here.  We’ve got to find a way out.”
In an incredulous and confused voice the other says, “What do
you mean this is no time to panic?  If not now, when!”

</silliness>

[ Edited: 17 February 2010 07:53 PM by jump_in_the_pit ]
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Posted: 23 February 2010 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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This story frightens the heck out of me! The driver says she did what all the experts said to do - put it in neutral - to no avail!

“I put the car into all available gears, including neutral,” she recalled about her fruitless attempt to slow the car down. Ms. Smith says she even put the car into reverse, in which position the gearshift remained as the car quickly reached a speed of 100mph.

After putting both feet on the brake and employing the emergency brake to no avail, Ms. Smith began to think that her only choice was to run her car into the guardrail, if only to save the other drivers on the highway.

Mrs. Smith testified before Congress today.

I note some debate in the comments below the article, some claim her account is valid, others suggest due to panic she may not have remembered events correctly. Either way it must have been truly terrifying for her.

I got my little “recall fix” welded onto my gas pedal at the dealer last week. The guys at the shop are always friendly to me, and they threw in a free oil change for the inconvenience of the recall. They told me everyone should also make sure their drivers side floor mat is hooked into place where it can’t get under the gas pedal, regardless of car make or model. Mats can become dislodged during vacuuming or from kicking when getting in and out of the car. They said always use mats made for the specific model, and never put new mats on top of old (they said you’d be surprised how many people do that, to keep the “original” mats nice!)

Another safety tip mechanics gave my brother’s wife for her VW, was to take the generic seat covers off her car seats - they interfere with/block the side airbags. Never knew that! Good to know. I know a lot of people buy those seat covers, especially if they wear the dark-rinse jeans in style now, that rub fabric dye on car seats - and everything else.  wink

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Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.    - Lex Luthor

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Posted: 23 February 2010 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Thanks Jules. Yep, really frightening.

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Doug

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El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

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Posted: 24 February 2010 06:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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What is more likely here?

A) The driver panicked.
B) Every system on the car went haywire at once and moving the gearshift lever had no effect, and to top it off both braking systems failed at the same time.

I choose A.

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You cannot have a rational conversation with someone who holds irrational beliefs.

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