Advice to drivers of runaway cars: Shift into neutral
I thought that this message was implicit in all the coverage I -- and many others -- have written about Toyota and its runaway acceleration issue. But I've received enough e-mails from enough readers to convince me that it's worthwhile for me and others to say this:
If you are driving and your accelerator sticks, or mashes itself to the floor, or gets stuck under the floor mat or in any way gets out of your control: SHIFT YOUR CAR INTO NEUTRAL. Then steer and use your brakes responsibly to pull out of traffic and to a stop on the side of the road.
It turns out that many people have never used any gear except forward and reverse, never having had occasion to use neutral. But it's there and it works on all vehicles. In the simplest possible terms, shifting your car into neutral disconnects the engine from the wheels. If your vehicle is in neutral, the gas pedal can stay stuck to the floor until the gas tank is empty and your vehicle will not move.
I've never owned a vehicle that had an automatic transmission. I'm a stickshift guy from way back. I prefer the control it gives you when driving, I enjoy the fun of downshifting into curves and really, you know, driving.
But here's what I like most about driving a stickshift: It constantly reminds you that you are the only person in charge of a two-ton rolling murder weapon, not to put too fine a point on it.
Automatic transmissions -- combined with ultra-smooth-riding suspensions, interior amenities such as great-sounding satellite radio and endless driver distractions (cellphones, GPS, kids and so on) -- can really make you forget the serious and potentially terrible responsibility you bear every time you pull into traffic.
But even automatic transmissions have a neutral. Find it. Learn it. Love it. And, if your car starts running away from you, do the right thing and shift into neutral.
Below is a good video from auto research firm Edmunds.com in which a test driver gets behind the wheel of a second-generation Prius and duplicates runaway acceleration by mashing the gas pedal to the floor. Then he executes three maneuvers: He stands on the brakes, he shifts into neutral and then he tries to shift into reverse. Watch what happens. (My only qualm about this video: It was filmed on a highway with other vehicles around, instead of on a much-safer test track.)
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March 15, 2010; 3:05 PM ET
Categories: Autos , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Runaway acceleration, Toyota problems, runaway prius, toyota
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