By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The site’s automotive writer, Joe Benton, wrote about unintended acceleration for the first time in the summer of 2007, telling the story of a woman in Everett, Washington, whose Prius took off while she was on the interstate and wouldn’t slow down even as she repeatedly pumped the brakes.
Hood received hate mail from Prius owners when the negative story was posted. “They’re zealots and religious about their cars,” Hood says. “Quite honestly, we don’t give a damn about anything. If people want to drive those things, fine by us, but our job is to criticize and nitpick.”
Then the other horror stories rolled in.
One came from Richard Bacon, a Tacoma, Washington, resident who wrote, “This week, our 2008 Prius tried to kill me twice.” Bacon’s Prius died while he was driving up his snowy driveway, causing him to slide into oncoming traffic “that just missed hitting me broadside.”
Then he was driving with his wife, merging into traffic at 45 mph, and he crossed over a patch of snow. The Prius locked up, and Bacon lost control and skidded toward a 30-foot drop down the side of the road. “Only a snowbank kept my wife and me from serious injury or death,” he wrote.
Toyota recalled the floor mats about two months after the first story from Hood’s website. From a company press release: “If properly secured, the All Weather Floor Mat will not interfere with the accelerator pedal. Suggested opportunities to check are after filling the vehicle’s tank with gasoline, after a carwash or interior cleaning, or before driving the vehicle. Under no circumstances should more than one floor mat ever be used in the driver’s seating position: The retaining hooks are designed to accommodate only one floor mat at a time.”
It appears that just one person is currently in litigation with Toyota concerning unintended acceleration. Art Robinson, the man involved in that crash, wouldn’t comment (saying his lawyer has advised him not to), but a Toyota spokeswoman confirmed the lawsuit, declining to comment further.
Apparently, hours after Robinson purchased his 2005 Prius in Tacoma, Washington, the car began to handle funnily, and as he was driving back to the dealership, the car took off. Robinson stomped on the brake and the emergency brake, but the car wouldn’t slow down. He exited the freeway and shot through an intersection safely, but then lost control and drove through a convenience store. Robinson escaped before the Prius and the building burst into flames.
“It happened so fast I didn’t have time to be scared then,” Robinson told a Seattle news station.
Despite Elizabeth James’ injuries, the couple never pursued a lawsuit against Toyota, and even if they wanted to, the Colorado statute of limitations ran out last summer.
“I’m not out to get Toyota; we owned three Toyota vehicles at one time, and we still have a 2000 Sienna and a 2006 Corolla that we’ll drive until they die because they’re good cars,” Ted James says. “The fact that she could crash at 90 mph, well, she’ll say, ‘First the Prius tried to kill me, and then it saved my life.’”
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It doesn’t take much of a pitch to sell a Prius, says Johnny “J-Mac” McFolling, a salesman at Houston’s Mike Calvert Toyota.
McFolling wouldn’t drive a Prius, he says, because he’s a big man and everyone in his family is big, too, but he loved the car when they all sold at “sticker price or higher.”
“You can tell a Prius owner, not by looking at them, but as soon as they start talking,” McFolling says. “You don’t have to sell a Prius; they’re already sold when someone comes through that door.”
Those buyers haven’t been around much in the past six months, and McFolling says Prius sales have dropped 90 percent since summer, while truck sales have increased. The dealership was selling 25 Priuses per month and could’ve moved more if Toyota had delivered them, but those days are gone.
Mike Calvert sold Riner her Prius, but after the technician told her the car took off because she was low on gas, she wanted nothing to do with it.
The dealer offered about $12,000 less than what she’d paid for the car, explaining he couldn’t sell a Prius to save his life.
“He said, ‘The market is soft for Priuses because of gas prices,’” Riner says.
The other owners of runaway Priuses have fared differently:
Sherman loves her Prius and is keeping it until it takes off again on its own.
The Jameses kept their mangled Prius for as long as possible, hoping Toyota would take it to a laboratory for examination, but when their insurance company pressured them, they let it go. Ted James bought a new Volkswagen Jetta six-speed, so if it goes wild, “all you have to do is push in the clutch.”