Aftermarket cruise control responsible for unintended acceleration?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I bought a 2002 Toyota Echo, drove it three weeks, and it nearly killed me. Twice. The car suddenly accelerated in heavy traffic. The brake had no effect -- it did not slow or stop the car. I threw it into Neutral, and it stopped 15 feet from a brick building. The dealership theorized that the "add-on" cruise control caused the problem, and replaced it. The company that made the cruise-control device said nothing was wrong with the cruise control, and said the problem was with the car. With assurances that it would never happen again, I took the car back and drove it for two days. All this time, the cruise control was in the "off" position. The Echo accelerated from 30 mph uphill to 60 mph. I braked with all my strength and slowed it to 40 mph. I crossed the highway intersecting my gravel country road and swerved to miss a semi tractor-trailer. This time, I did not put it in Neutral, and it took about 5 miles before it stopped. The car is dangerous. What should I do? -- Susan

RAY: Wow. From 30 to 60 going up a hill? That's pretty impressive for that little matchbox.

TOM: Of course it's dangerous, Susan. But you made a mistake the second time by NOT putting the car in Neutral. That's the first thing you should do whenever you experience any kind of "unintended acceleration" problem. If you put the car in Neutral, you'll be able to stop it right away -- no matter what the engine is doing. And stopping the car is your first priority.

RAY: Besides, if you had put it in Neutral with the engine stuck at full throttle, you might have blown the engine. And since you're still under warranty, you would have gotten a new engine, solved your problem and you wouldn't be writing to us now. So keep that in mind.

TOM: I suspect that the dealer is right, Susan. We haven't heard any similar complaints about Echos, so I think the problem IS with the after-market (not made by the manufacturer) cruise-control device.

RAY: Most of these cruise-control devices add a second accelerator cable to the bell crank -- which rotates and opens the throttle. And even though you have the master cruise-control switch turned off, that cable is still there. My guess is that somehow, that extra cable is getting hung up and is interfering with the normal operation of the throttle.

TOM: So here's what I'd do: I would ask the dealer to remove the cruise-control system entirely. You don't want it replaced, you want every piece of it removed. Ask him to put the car back to the way it came from the factory. I'm pretty sure that the problem will disappear.

RAY: But just in case, be prepared to throw it right into Neutral if it ever happens again. And if it does happen again after the cruise control is removed, take it back to the dealer and insist that he give you another car to drive until he solves the problem. And if he gives you any trouble, tell him your heirs are prepared to see him in court if the need should arise. Good luck, Susan.

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