Drive by wire throttle body

Revenge of the Nerd: Bravo Toyota!

By Mike Kojima

Today Toyota announced perhaps what is the most extensive, comprehensive and expensive recall in the history of Automotive manufacturing.  The recall involves eight of their best selling models from the Camry to even our Project Tundra.  2.3 MILLION vehicles will be affected by this recall. In an unprecedented move, Toyota has also stopped all sales and production of the potentially affected models as well. This affects more than 100,000 brand new Toyotas in the sales pipe line.  This is STOPPED, dead cold, with thousands of workers at plants and dealerships who as of next Monday will be sitting around twiddling their thumbs. This recall will probably be disastrous financially for Toyota.

The recall is about drive by wire throttle control systems that may potentially stick.  Drive by wire throttles are throttles that are controlled entirely by the engines ECU with no physical linkage between the gas pedal and the engines throttle blades.  Don't worry, this is not weird radical stuff, nearly all cars are drive by wire nowadays. The recall is the result of an extensive investigation of warranty data that was launched after a tragic accident this summer when a sticking throttle caused a terrifying accident where a Lexus ES350 ran out of control at high speeds.  The Lexus ran away, stuck on full throttle with failed brakes on a San Diego freeway for several minutes before it crashed, killing an experienced Highway Patrol officer and his entire family.

When you look at the data, the occurrence rate of Toyota drive by wire throttle malfunctioning is pretty low, although it is higher than some other manufactures. Some of these issues are probably due to the software logic of the Toyota drive by wire throttle system which allows the throttle to function under driver control when the brakes are simultaneously applied.  Some manufactures like Nissan have a failsafe that cuts the throttle when the brakes are on.  I have personally criticized Nissan for this because as a performance driver, I often do things like left foot brake to help rotate a car or balance an understeering chassis.  Off road guys often left foot brake to help stop a differential from spinning out of control, losing traction, or to rock a car stuck in sand, mud or snow.  The failsafe precludes you from doing these things.  It also stops you from doing burnouts.

Perhaps a dumb thing on Toyota's part is for their smart key systems off switch, you have to hold the start button down for 3 seconds when the transmission is in drive before the ignition is actually killed.  3 seconds is an eternity when you are trying to control and stop a run away car and is not intuitive even if you are familiar with the car.  I think this is what probably helped kill the Highway Patrol officer, heck; I might not figure that one out in a similar situation.

What I can't figure out is how a professional high performance driver, that is trained in emergency car handling allowed himself to die in this way.  In my years as an automotive engineer and a racer, I have actually attended several law enforcement agency advanced drivers training classes and although they were somewhat easy, they are way harder than what a typical drivers training class teaches you.  Remember readers, if your Toyota or any car for that matter sticks it's throttle, the easiest thing for you to do is to stick it in neutral!  Then figure out how to turn off your engine.  Modern cars have rev limiters so you are not going to blow anything up and just remember when you kill your engine, if you are still moving, your power brakes and steering are not going to work, so be ready for hard braking and stiff high effort steering. 

I have personally suffered from stuck throttles twice in my life.  The first time was in an RX-7 where the floor mat jammed the throttle.  I simply turned the key off and pulled over.  The second time was in a friend's Celica with dual Mikuni carbs.  My friend had put the linkage in wrong and the throttle stuck when I was testing it for him.  This time I pushed in the clutch because I had trouble reaching the ignition switch quickly (his car was pretty fast!).  The engine overreved and bent a few valves before I could reach the switch.  The lesson here was although in both cases this was bad, I reacted correctly and immediately without hesitation and was not even scared. Both of these cases where when I was young and before my training as well! Knowing this, I wonder what that Highway Patrol officer was thinking.  It's so sad that his whole family had to die because he apparently panicked.  According to 911 records (his wife actually called 911 asking for help!) the whole incident lasted several minutes, plenty of time to figure out to shift it into neutral!  The scope of this tragedy also rests largely on driver error.

drive by wire throttle

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010 5:21 PM
First off, I love this website, and I check it at least once a day.

But I feel this needs to be pointed out. This entire article is written with the tone that Toyota did the right thing voluntarily, especially this line:

"Lesser companies would probably try to let their PR agencies handle the flack and sweep things under the rug until NHTSA orders a recall."

But unfortunately, as stated in this article in the Detroit News (http://www.detnews.com/article/20100127/AUTO01/1270400/1148/rss25) Toyota was indeed asked to do a recall.

Direct quote: "LaHood said, 'The reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to.' [...]Officials said NHTSA first contacted Toyota Friday, after seeing news reports of Toyota's plans to continue selling defective vehicles. "

Again, I'm not trying to slam you, but there's more to this story than Toyota is publicizing.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 6:21 PM
Oh the good 'ol days when TB activated by a steel wire were reliable and no one complained...
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:14 PM
In my research, I believe in my opinion that the recall is voluntary and the extent of it goes beyond the minimum legal requirements. The actions to do it were probably in place before some politicians tried to grab some media limelight by stating they are making big bad Toyota do something. Japanese companies don't announce things like this until they are fully planned out and they are very thorough in there planning. Believe me, I have been there professionally!

The new administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, David Strickland, said today Toyota's decision to halt sales "was an aggressive one and was the legally and morally correct thing to do.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100127/AUTO01/1270400/1148/rss25#ixzz0dsq1d045

NHTSA reacted to some claims by the conventional media which may or may not be substantiated. I often wonder about the media because in areas where I am an expert, I see that they are only about 50% correct whenever they make a statement.

Having worked in the tech side of the OEM automotive realm, you know a lot about the bull that automakers are subject too due to the nature of our society. Toyota is stepping up and doing the right thing. I know of other companies who try to sweep the data under the rug and wait for NHTSA to catch them.

I know how the media sometimes puts there slant on the information as I myself have gotten heavily misquoted by them. Big corporations and gun owners are a favorite target for reporting bias. I am an alternative viewpoint to what the popular media tells you.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:21 PM
Oh, OK, that makes sense. Sorry for calling you out, the two articles just seemed to disagree.

I guess that's the nature of this day and age, isn't it? It's darn near impossible to believe anything you read, because there's always something you're not being told.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:26 PM
I feel that opinions often color what is being reported and the truth often lies between the poles. No need to apologize, its a topic for good discussion.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:37 PM
I had throttle stick on my 83 500 SL, it had a solid linkage actuated throttle body, and it suck on me after not using for a while, when i was making a left turn in the rain. It oversteered, I over-corrected, and it fishtailed, so I corrected again until I got it straightened out, and the I used the top of my foot to pull the pedal back to where it should go. I had some friends in the car, so I nursed the car to the next exit, picked up some simple green and some silicon grease I had with me, and cleaned and re-lubed the thing then and there.

On an unrelated note, Mike, you wouldn't happen to be the same Mike Kojima that was part of the factory Toyota autocross effort of the 80's, would you?
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:45 PM
While I'm not a big Toyota fan these days (they make generic cars with zero passion), I also think that they did the right thing. I also think they screwed up by using a North American supplier for something as critical as a pedal assembly with a PPS sensor. They should have kept the pedal assembly a Denso and just used some more North American sheet metal. You cannot beat Denso quality as Toyota has now learned the hard way. Wait...Toyota owns Denso too. It should have been a no brainer.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:14 PM
Big corporations and gun owners should not be mentioned in the same breath even when done indirectly. Big corporations own most of the media were gun owners do not. GE owns NBC. Do you think you'll ever hear a NBC news piece exposing GE and driving their stock down? Most of the mainstream media is bullshit and owned by big corporations and yet you still have people flipping on the news and reading their paper and taking it for face value.

Before you say, well, I wasn't associating big corporations with gun owners, just stating that they were both victims of news bias, tell me how this sounds.

Gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and satanic worshipers have always been ridiculed by the church.

And I don't get why people also take the president's word on face value.

Well, he's the president so he must be a decent guy and telling the truth, and yet I never met the guy and don't know him personally, but I still trust him.

You would not trust a stranger on the street but you'll trust a complete stranger in the white house.

Slaves don't own guns. You think China would be a different country if their population of over a billion all had guns. There would be an overthrow tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:35 PM
Really had to get that off your chest, Eric (9 double posts?) lol.

I've followed the Toyota "sudden unintended acceleration" case closely since the Highway Patrol Officer's death. I have several family & friends who are CHP and all of them came out of EVOC with well above-average driving skills. Plus everyone in my family also drives Toyota (and I admit to worrying a little about how my parents & sister would respond in such a situation).

Listen to the 911 call of the CHP officer, its truly tragic. He attempted several times to get the car into neutral, but failed. This was probably because it wasn't his car (it was a dealership loaner while his own car was being serviced). So here's a skilled driver, driving a brand new car that doesn't use a key in the ignition, going 100-120mph on a busy freeway with his entire family in the car, hitting the off key repeatedly (not holding it down unfortunately), trying to glance down and figure out the Lexus's sport-type shifter gated pattern (his Toyota was the normal straight up/down PRND2L rather than the offset style), etc. "Oh he panicked" is easy to say, but listen to the 911 call as the near-hysterical rear passenger is asked where they are (and the driver fairly calmly mentions the cross street). If he couldn't figure it out, what hope would my sister have had? (I've since debriefed my family on the subject -- including forcing my sister to bounce off the rev limiter so she would be convinced no damage was being done).

But what bothers me most, is that there were already abnormally high reports to the NHTSA regarding stuck accelerators in many Toyotas before that crash, but Toyota continued to shrug it off as a bunch of bad drivers with ill-fitting floormats.

Only when the bad press hit surrounding the death of the officer (and his family) did Toyota issue a recall -- and they only recalled the floormats despite many accounts of people having stuck throttle without any floormats installed.

Then Toyota said it was the pedal, and they hacked off a section of it -- nope, still not the problem.

Now they're saying it is the Chinese-made CTS pedals (yes they're an American company -- but they outsource to China -- check the box). I might feel like they've finally found the problem except that the CHP officer's lexus had a Denso pedal (as well as all of the Priuses still exhibiting the stuck pedal without floormats -- thankfully they're so underpowered as to not provide a huge threat).

Toyota now has 19 fatalities on its hands because of this -- all the other manufacturers (combined) have 11. And so far, all they have shown is they've learned from the "Big 3" to blame the least expensive option until proven wrong.

I do agree with Mike on the DBW/left foot braking. I've been irritated by that "feature" in the past, but I now think it should be required equipment on DBW cars (but allow for an optional "off" button for sports cars/trucks). Think of how easily everyone would sleep if Toyota recalled the ECUs to implement that feature. But no way is Toyota going to spend that much...unless they run out of cheaper scapegoats...
Thursday, January 28, 2010 12:50 AM
Oh, and this isn't an isolated case. If Toyota really wanted to stand-up and do the right thing, it would also recall Prius headlights: http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/24/safety-agency-decides-not-to-recall-prius-for-headlight-issue/
Thursday, January 28, 2010 2:33 AM

Where can I find a link to the audio of the 911 call?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 28, 2010 5:05 AM
I KNOW I would have been able to figure it out in seconds, gated shifter or not. I have been trained at EVOC, taking the same courses that many law enforcement officers go to in southern California. I am very confident I could but I would worry about my wife for instance but she is not a trained driver.

The total number of cases of stuck accelerator is double digit for many cars, thats 3 sigma. Its double of what is typical for other makes but still statistically small.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 6:55 AM
Car and Driver did a test recently .


" For our tests, we rounded up a disparate bunch: a V-6 Camry (a recalled vehicle), an Infiniti G37 convertible, and a hugely powerful 540-hp Roush Stage 3 Mustang.

Our tests were conducted at highway speeds, as the incident with the Lexus ES350 happened on an expressway, and in the lowest possible gear, as that's the worst-case scenario. Here is how to deal with a runaway car:"

While people say hes a CHP officer, etc. I still say its driver error. If you are a proficient enough driver, you can stop a car.

Anyone old enough to remember Audi and unintended acceleration ? How about GM trucks blowing up ?

A couple of isolated incidents gets the media and finger pointing in any direction other than the owners own.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:33 AM
The LA Times pointed out this morning that Toyota announced that they were voluntarily recalling the vehicles and that our Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in an interview later in the day claimed that he was responsible for ordering Toyota to do it. The LA Times called the claim controversial and contradictory. I am pretty sure that this is a politician trying to get some brownie points and a media op but that it my personal opinion.

With my prior employer, I was involved with many recall campaigns and let me tell you, even if all the engineers involved with investigation and countermeasure are going full blast and burning the midnight oil, it takes time to make an action plan.

First reports come in, from dealers, customers, the media and internal monitoring of customer complaints and warranty reports and parts demand. Yes the OEM's, at least the Japanese ones do this. They are always actively on the alert for potential problems to nip them in the bud. Its the Japanese way of doing things.

Once a trend is spotted, a group of engineers will investigate to determine the root cause. This is difficult and must be done correctly or the problem could be made worse or not fixed with a knee jerk reaction. The engineers will then work with other engineers from design groups, testing groups, the suppliers, production groups and technical training groups to come up with a fix. The fix will be designed, and new parts must be made by the suppliers with surplus to give good customer service as their cars must not be off the road long. Dealer techs must be trained and a QA procedure with audit verification of the corrected repair must be planned and instituted. Then the recall can be announced and the campaign started. After all of this, the incident will continue to be monitored closely for years to make sure it was effective.

Even with hundreds of engineers working overtime, this can take months. Toyota was not concealing the data or trying to sweep this under the rug, they were doing all of the above urgently. I know, I worked for a Japanese OEM and was intimately involved with this whole process many times. Japanese culture is to aggressively go after problems.

I think the big three might try to do floor sweeping to some extent and Mitsubishi got caught once in a huge scandal in Japan which was a great shame, a national great shame. In my opinion Toyota would not do this. They are very conservative and very into doing things correctly. There upper management is the most old school Japanese of all the Japanese car companies.

The media sucks as well. Do you remember when 60 minutes got caught rigging GM trucks to explode in side impact testing? Our local TV news got caught rigging melons and cinder block walls to explode when shot with a super deadly assault rife.

A lot of this is colored with my personal opinion like any other news report you see! I think I have better insight to this sort of thing than your typical reporter.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 8:15 AM
I agree that news sensationalism has gotten out of hand. Reporters want the next big story instead of the news. When 24 hour news networks can't find the big story, so there should be no news to report, the build hype with their news commentary shows, so we get given glorified gossip a lot of the time. I think that Toyota is operating responsibly and proactively given the circumstances, especially since its impossible to document every glitch before a car hits the market.

I'm almost certain that Toyota would have not sold the cars with a known issue like this not only for the ethical implications involved, the monetary losses a recall would cost, but also the damage to its public image. People that drive Camry's and such are looking for a safe car.

Who knows, maybe factory installed kill switches will become the industry standard in the near future. all bikes, PWCs, ATVs, planes and helos that I've ridden/driven/flown have had them, and 3 seconds is an eternity in a situation.
Psychic Bob
Psychic Boblink
Thursday, January 28, 2010 2:17 PM
For what it's worth to the discussion, my mother has a Camry and recently received a recall notice about it. According to her, the letter specifically told her to use her brakes and only her brakes if the throttle stuck. It did not mention pushing the start button for any length of time nor shifting out of drive. Also, the shift gate wouldn't keep you from going to neutral, though it might make park hard to find. It's just straight up from drive to neutral. [First post; hooray for me.]
Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:51 PM
Mike, I know that I would be able to figure it out within seconds, as should most here. But the fact that a chp officer wasn't doesn't bode well for the general public.

audio clip of 911 call: http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=809_1253514413&c=1
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, January 29, 2010 5:02 AM
I believe the Toyota gated shifter has neutral straight up from drive unless he had it in sport mode to the left of the normal gate. Then it would have to be pushed right then up. I don't think most people use that mode, its sorta lame but it can get knocked in there in a panic maybe.

As horrible as that audio is, the driver should have been doing the mental check list and trying A,B,C,D instead of talking to the 911 operator. It is amazing how quickly the car covered the distance, you know it was hauling ass. I know the area well, it is right by JWT and I drive it all the time.

If everyting else failed I would have drove into the center divider to bleed off some speed before the end of the road.
yo vanilla
yo vanillalink
Friday, January 29, 2010 7:20 AM
There are many manufacturers which need a lot more prodding and pushing to make a recall (VW coilpacks, anyone?) so Toyota should be praised for this. Still, to come to not only a recall but to stop sales and production is unbelievable. Especially given the fact that Toyota's mantra is quality control at the design and manufacturing levels, you wonder how this happens in the first place.

I actually read yesterday that the assemblies in question were made in Ontario, not China as someone above mentioned.
Saturday, January 30, 2010 5:44 PM
Its really sad that the police officer´s family died... As is any accident.

This issue reminds me kind of the case of Ford Explorers and Firestone. Bad advertiseing can ruin and make a company go bankrupt.... And in the end it wasnt what every one said it was (like with firestone tires).

I think Toyota is trying to minimize the damage caused by media frenzy, to its name and brand.

Finally i think it will put the blame on the faulty supplier, and that company will probably go bankrupt... also very sad.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010 12:53 PM
On the news tonight, Toyota said they were adding a reinforcing bar to the pedals to prevent the probem. Another news source said that the pedals use a "friction device" to make the e-throttle feel like a mechanical pedal (which begs the question why not use a return spring like a mechanical throttle?), which may be causing the problem. The reinforcing bar doesn;t sound like it would solve the problem. Later on, Steve Wozniak mentioned having a similar problem with the cruise control in his Prius, taking him up to 100 mph. He thinks it's a software problem, not a mechanical problem.

As far as the neutral problem, I've never owned an auto (never wanted to), but do they come with any interlocks to prevent the driver from accidentally shifting into reverse or park when moving? Again, I've never really driven an auto for an extended period of time, other than driver's ed, so I don't know.
Miles (San Antonio)
Miles (San Antonio)link
Thursday, February 04, 2010 3:30 PM
I work here in San Antonio where the new Toyota Plant is actually located. Have a lot of friends here that work at the plant. They were asked to take a "voluntary vacation" if at all possible. Understandable really from a business stand point. But they said that they all still go to work as usual. They've said it has slowed to a stand still in most departments but not all. Still, can't imagine a few hundred folks on a line, doing nothing still. They've said parts delivery are still coming and they are stocking loads of parts outside that are intended to be put on cars once production begins full speed.

This one is gonna hurt Toyota. But I still them coming out "okay" at the end of 2010. Apparently they will be doing a new sales push in the next quarter. Again...understandable considering business and production are almost at stand stills.
Friday, February 05, 2010 1:55 AM
If anything this may not even be a issue with a sticking throttle body. This could of been a issue with the driver placing the vehicle in cruse control and forgetting how to de-activate it. Think about it, if the car was going to malfunction it would have happened to him sometime prior to the accident. We will never know now.
Friday, February 12, 2010 8:29 AM
Sorry, but I can't exonerate Toyota of any wrong doing in this whole unintended acceleration ordeal. While I am certain that internally Toyota has been working to resolve the situation for awhile, I don't believe they had any intention of publically admitting an issue without it blowing up in their face first. For a company whose entire reputation lies on a perceived image of quality, any problem potentially related to reduced vehicle safety would ruin their marketing image. In the automotive world, in any company from aftermarket parts to big OEMs, sales and marketing rule the roost over engineering.
I can see where the problem arose. Toyota's rapid growth and push to speed development along with cost cutting measures turned around to bit them in the ass. It has a happened to all the large automakers, it was bound to catch up to Toyota in the long run. No matter who the supplier is of a potentially faulty part, the OEM is only to blame if the agreed upon design does not meet requirements. I am positive Toyota sped up their development process by doing more computer analysis over controlled laboratory validation testing. Most likely they adjusted their validation test plans to verify the results of their analysis rather than supplement it by going further. A supplier will only spend the money to test a part as much as the OEM asks them to. It is the OEMs responsibility to make sure the validation plan encompasses all potential failure modes of a component. Also, the fact that Toyota used the same part throughout a wide variety of their vehicle lineup raises another question. Did they independently validate the components for each vehicle type or did one level of validation qualify the parts for any use?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Friday, February 12, 2010 8:57 AM
I am not even sure if it is much of an issue, the occurrence is in ppm. In order to do an effective countermeasure, you have to duplicate the incident. I was a QA engineer working on this sort of stuff in some parts of my working life and it was often hard to duplicate a low occurrence incident even if we had the parts back from the warranty return system.

Proper investigation and countermeasure can take a long time and Toyota probably would have had a volentary recall once the countermeasure was validated. My company was very careful and agressive and I am sure Toyota is even more so.

Any car undergoes durability testing based on severe conditions driving which is most of what goes on at proving grounds so even if computer modeling was wrong, it get usually gets caught in this stage of development.

Toyota is being very proactive and aggressive in containing this issue and the media is blowing it up beyond proportion just like what they did with Audi and GM pickups.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 9:38 PM
drive-by-wire= no pedal feel. I know that I'm a simpleton dinosaur when it comes to design and engineering but I do feel that "software" issues should be contained within the fuel injection and emissions systems not the throttle and braking systems of a car ( i also think cruise control and automatic transmissions are the cause of increased accidents but that's for another rant). In a nutshell you wouldn't have this problem if we still used cable throttles. I know I was immediately alerted to something wrong just by feel alone when my throttle cable slipped its guide bracket in my B14. I pulled over and fixed the problem then and there, couldn't do that if it was a software issue. I got back in and drove off soundly while being laughed at by my buddy on his R6.
Monday, April 05, 2010 6:35 PM
I can see both sides but I kinda lean towards what merritt syas.
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