Toyota challenges 'runaway' Prius driver's account

Toyota's findings call into question a driver's account of his "runaway" Toyota Prius in San Diego last week.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Toyota on Monday released information that calls into question a driver's account of uncontrollable acceleration affecting his Toyota Prius in San Diego.

Toyota Motor Sales vice president Mike Michels, speaking on Monday.
Toyota Motor Sales vice president Mike Michels, speaking on Monday. Toyota

In a video released Monday by Toyota titled "Toyota preliminary findings of alleged runaway Prius," Toyota Motor Sales Vice President Mike Michels questioned Jim Sikes' account of uncontrolled acceleration in his Prius last week in San Diego.

On March 7, James Sikes called 911, saying the accelerator in his Prius was stuck and he couldn't slow down. The event was thought to be related to glitches that, in rare cases, may cause uncontrolled acceleration in the Toyota Prius.

"After two days of investigation by a team of Toyota engineers...It would seem that the account of the incident by the driver (Jim Sikes) is inconsistent with technical investigation," Michels said in the video. "(The engineers) tested all of the principal components related to this incident and concluded that they were all functioning normally, including a brake override which is an inherent part of the hybrid system," he said.

"The hybrid self-diagnostic system did show evidence of numerous, rapidly repeated on-and-off applications of both the accelerator and the brake pedals," Toyota said separately in a statement, adding that this on-and-off application was done about 250 times. In tests, Toyota said that applying the brakes while pressing down on the accelerator--which recreates Sikes' alleged incident--idled the engine as described to CNET on Friday by Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at Edmunds.com.

The front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating, while the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition and functional, Toyota said. The accelerator pedal was tested and found to be working normally with no mechanical binding or friction. Toyota added that the Prius is not subject to a recall for sticking accelerator pedals.

Also, during testing, the brakes "were purposely abused" by continuous light application in order to overheat them. The vehicle could be safely stopped by means of the brake pedal, even when overheated, the carmaker said.

John Gomez, the attorney representing Jim Sikes, said his law firm will not be making any further comment until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration completes its investigation.