This post serves to publicly establish a few facts about Toyota, and about the $30,000 2007 RAV4 Limited that I bought at the end of 2006.
I soon had a few reasons to be less than completely satisfied with the quality and reliability of my car. There was the annoying fact that, unbeknownst to me, Toyota or the dealer had outfitted the vehicle with starter tires; and the fact that suddenly last year, the car's engine began smoking and left my wife stranded (turned out the water pump needed to be replaced, after less than half of its projected life. Toyota took care of the repair under warranty, but we had to have the car towed and it was in the garage for several days while we made do with a rental.)
The scariest thing to happen with the RAV4 involved an incident of sudden spontaneous acceleration. I'm putting it on the record here for the first time, but will be sending copies of this post to Toyota's U.S. headquarters; to NHTSA, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration; and to the dealership (Downeast Toyota in Brewer, Maine) that declined to replace the accelerator during the latest service inspection a week or two ago.
Last year, in the late spring or early summer, I took a short drive from Mount Desert Island to Ellsworth. It was a Sunday, late morning, not a lot of traffic on Route 3. I was doing maybe 45 miles per hour when all of a sudden the RPMs went wild, the engine howled, and the RAV sped off as if someone had dumped a boulder on the accelerator pedal. My heart was in my throat as I tried to stop the car. Repeatedly pressing the brake didn't do it. I then stuck my foot underneath the accelerator pedal and pushed up with the toe of my shoe a few times. That worked and subsequently I could depress the brake and it responded normally.
It's hard to know for sure, but I think I was briefly up to 70-plus miles. The V6 is remarkably powerful on this midsized SUV, and when the driver — or "something" — floors the gas, the vehicle tears away like a Daytona contender. That wasn't such a desirable feat in this instance. Sure, the episode was over in seconds, but that didn't make it any less terrifying.
I assumed at the time that maybe the driver's-side floormat had somehow crept up and impeded the free operation of the pedal, a theory that Toyota also seemed to find plausible (though not for the RAV4, apparently). So I threw out the mat and didn't replace it with anything. We have dirty carpeting now, but we are alive.
Of course, in recent weeks, we've all learned that millions of Toyotas are potentially afflicted with a sticky accelerator pedal. Toyota issued a recall that made headlines around the world. Two weeks ago, we drove our car to Downeast Toyota when it was time for its 60,000-mile service anyway, and we insisted that the accelerator be replaced. We discovered later that the dealership hadn't done so, even though we advised that we'd had a potentially life-threatening incident involving a sticking accelerator. The dealership will not replace the accelerator because Toyota says that the 2007 RAV4 has no accelerator problems. In other words, our car is not part of the recall, so we're out of luck no matter what I've personally experienced.
That's where we stand today.
The purpose of this post is to put Toyota Japan, Toyota America, and the dealership in Brewer on notice. I'm addressing them here directly:
If I or my family come to bodily harm due to a re-occurring problem with the accelerator, you will be morally, legally, and financially responsible. If the car spontaneously speeds out of control again, and we end up killing or wounding others, or destroying our car, or damaging other people's property, same deal: You will be responsible in every respect. And either we or our heirs and survivors will hold you to that.
The rest of this post concerns the unserious Punch-and-Judy show in Washington DC yesterday, when Toyota's head honcho Akio Toyoda testified before the House of Representatives. The Wall Street Journal had a pretty apt description for it: Capitol Hill Kabuki. Newsweek's Matthew Phillips was also less than impressed by the congressional "performance":
It was obvious which committee members have Toyota plants in their district, and which ones do not. California Rep. Diane Watson, whose district is just north of Toyota Motor Sales headquarters in Torrance, beamed and greeted Toyoda by speaking Japanese, while the most blistering questions of the hearings came from Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, whose district is in the heart of the rust belt and home to Ford and GM plants. ...
Next Tuesday, March 2, it will be the Senate Commerce Committee's turn to take its shots at Toyota in a general hearing about the carmaker's safety problems. Senate hearings tend to be more disciplined than their House counterparts. But don't forget: committee chairman Sen. John Rockefeller is from West Virginia, home to Toyota's billion-dollar engine-making plant, which employs more than 1,000 people. Don't be surprised if the questions are softballs.
These are the people who love to portray themselves as the cream-of-the-crop of our nation. At least in part, we rely on them to put our lives and those of our spouses and kids ahead of provincial economic concerns.
Did I really just write that?
I'm sorry. How naive.