The car was a 2006 Toyota Corolla, and it was out of control. "All of a sudden without warning, the engine surged and the car lurched forward — despite the fact that the brakes were being pressed. I immediately pressed harder on the brakes and got no reaction, so I jammed both feet on the brake pedal as hard as I could." The wheels locked and the car went into a skid, miraculously avoiding an accident.
Are you prepared for unintended acceleration? My guess is, probably not. You need to listen to this advice even if you don’t drive a Toyota or Lexus that is subject to the recall or the “stop sale” order, because there have been cases reported involving many different cars and trucks.
This is a problem that can occur at any time, and anywhere
. If it does, my analysis based on fielding dozens of reports sent in through Mother Nature Network is that the car will suddenly, without warning, take off — as if your foot is pressing down hard on the accelerator.
The universal response to this horrifying experience is to hit the brakes, and that’s not wrong. But don’t pump them — that can make the problem worse. As Consumer Reports describes it
, “Power brakes [which you probably have] rely on engine vacuum to provide additional brake pressure. At full throttle, the engine doesn’t generate any vacuum. So as soon as we removed and reapplied pressure to the brake pedal, the power assist disappeared and stopping the car became hopeless.”
Instead, apply a firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. And — this is very important — shift into neutral. As the New York Times helpfully describes, “On most automatic transmissions, this means moving the selection lever one notch toward park.” This can be a bit confusing on cars with serpentine shift gates, so it’s a good idea to practice this maneuver in an empty parking lot or somewhere else safe.
When the car is safely stopped, shut off the engine. Doing this while the event is occurring may seem intuitive, but many modern cars with pushbutton starts don’t make shutoff easy. And turning the car off can disable power steering, power braking and other critical functions. This is not the time when you want to be dealing with extremely heavy and unresponsive steering and drastically weakened brakes.
Remember that things will happen very, very fast, and you’ll need to react almost immediately. If it seems scary, that’s because it is.