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Toyota Camry Hybrid Safety Concerns

PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 5,854
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  • I leased a 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid in June of 2006. I've been very pleased with the vehicle, and I've averaged over 40 mpg on the last five tanks of gas. However, there's a very serious safety concern which has come to my attention.

    About three weeks ago a co-worker related a story to me about how his friend's "push button start/stop" vehicle has accidentally turned off while he was driving. I don't remember the specifics, but the driver apparently hit the start/stop button while he was driving.

    I was naturally shocked to hear that this might happen. Within the next few days, I was reminded about this conversation, and I decided to test my own vehicle.

    I found an isolated part of my employer's parking lot, and while driving about 5 mph I pushed the start/stop button. Sure enough... the vehicle turned off.

    Now I don't remember whether I immediately pushed the button again, or whether I brought the vehicle to a stop before starting. My guess is that I stopped the vehicle; put it in park; depressed the brake pedal; and pushed the start/stop button. Again, I don't remember, but this is the usual start routine for the TCH.

    My point is this: no vehicle should turn off while the gear selector is in "drive", or for that matter... any position other than "park".

    The significance of this safety defect and its potential consequences were only hypothetical to me until this past Saturday (May 5, 2007). It then materialized into a full fledged, real-life automobile accident. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths.

    I had gone to my local Toyota dealership to have the 10,000 mile maintenance preformed (i.e. oil change & tire rotation). Upon completion of the service, the manager drove the vehicle out of the service bay and parked it adjacent to the building. She then got out of the car and came inside the office area.

    However, when she turned off the TCH she neglected to place the vehicle in "park", and she didn't apply the emergency brake either. My guess is the vehicle sounded an audible alarm to caution the driver that the vehicle was not in gear.

    I don't know for a fact that the vehicle sounded an alarm, but the TCH is pretty smart. It usually sounds an alarm when the driver neglects to do something correctly (e.g. turn off the lights; or failing to remove the "smart key" from the vehicle after it's been turned off).

    Once in the office area, the service manager began talking to the attendant receiving my payment. None of us knew that the TCH had already started a slow roll through the parking lot.

    By the time the service manager saw the vehicle moving it was too late for any of us to intervene. She said something to the effect of, "Oh my god, your car just went down the hill!" My reply was an astonished, "My car?!"

    The service manager then said "yes" and bolted out the employee entrance, towards the scene of the accident. I knew my car was likely destroyed, and there wasn't much I could do about it. So, I walked slowly out of the office to investigate the damage.

    The TCH had jumped the curb at the oil change facility, and rolled head long down an embankment into the dealership's parking lot below. The difference in elevation between the two parking lots was about two stories (28 feet), and the embankment was approximately a 45 degree slope.

    By the time I saw the accident scene, the TCH had come to rest. It had impacted a Toyota Highlander, which then impacted a third vehicle. Again, none of these vehicles were occupied, so no injuries were sustained.

    Naturally, I was quite livid!

    This was no ordinary accident. In my opinion, employees of such commercial businesses should be held to a higher degree of responsibility that an average citizen. Since properly moving customer vehicles is an every day occurrence, there should be an increased awareness of safety as part of the training and expectations of all employees at the dealership and/or oil change site.

    My initial and subsequent “gut feeling” about this accident has been that I should be compensated with a brand new Toyota Camry Hybrid. Whether this will happen or not remains to be seen, as the issue has not yet been resolved.

    I seriously believe the keyless push button start/stop was a contributing factor to this accident. The design of all modern vehicles should take into consideration that motorists may inadvertently attempt to turn off a vehicle while it’s not in the “park” position. There should be an engineering solution which will not let a consumer do this.

    I can imagine many “worst case scenarios” where people might be injured or killed if this safety defect is not corrected.

  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    What a story! Good luck in getting completely satisfied.

    As to Smart Key shortcomings, well, had I a choice I'd not have chosen the feature. It's conveniences don't overcome some of its drawbacks, imo.

    Still, in an emergency situation one should always be able to turn off an engine without putting the gear shift into park. Gas pedals stick, brakes fail, drivers have heart attacks, etc.
  • Here are my suggestions for an "engineering solution":

    1. Under ordinary conditions it should not be possible to turn off the motor unless the vehicle is in park. This will prevent accidentally turning off the motor by simply touching or bumping the start/stop button.

    2. Under extraordinary circumstances, such as emergency responders taking action at an accident scene, it should be possible to turn off the motor while it's not in park. (It may be physically impossible to place the vehicle in park.) This "override" might be something like continuously holding the start/stop button for a specified length of time. My suggestion would be at least 10 seconds.

    3. Additional consideration should be given to whether or not the key must be present to activate this "override". My suggestion would be "no".

    In the event of a serious crash, the key may no longer be present in or around the vehicle, and for that matter it may no longer function anyway.

    This could also be a type "car jacking" prevention method. Simply ditch the key somewhere, then manually override the normal turn off procedure (preferably at the next intersection or other place where the vehicle isn't moving). It will then be impossible to re-start the vehicle without the key.

  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    I don't know about your car, but my Smart Key start button will not respond to a "touch" or "bump." It must be firmly pushed, with significant inward button travel, before engagement takes place.

    As to a 10-second lag before engine shutdown, that would not be acceptable in any emergency. I can hear attorneys murmuring now.
  • larsblarsb Posts: 8,204
    This is not AT ALL a Camry Hybrid safety issue, nor is it a "safety lack thereof" issue.

    This could happen to ANY CAR which is left in gear while sitting on an incline.

    It was not technological error or bad engineering - it was 100% HUMAN ERROR.

    So far, as far as I know, there is no car ever engineered which accounts for HUMAN ERROR.

    The error was made by the person not putting the car into Park. Not by any technology on the car.
  • petlpetl Posts: 610
    I couldn't have said it better. Everyone has a friend with a story. If the story is real, I suspect the person was "testing" what would happen if the start button was pushed while the car was in drive. That's it. This was not done accidentally and certainly isn't a safety issue (the opposite would be true). Heck, I've been tempted to try it myself. Thanks for saving me the trouble. Now I know it works as it should.
  • kdhspyderkdhspyder Posts: 7,160
    The story seems to have a two'missing' links IMO. But I could be in error. I have a Prius with the same system.

    It appears from your report that the service writer brought the vehicle around to the front for you and [ thought that she ] put the vehicle in park then turned off the vehicle.

    Somehow [ according to her ]the vehicle restarted itself and shifted itself out of Park into drive and began rolling down the hill. My guess is that the service writer just was in too much of a hurry and never put it in Park and never shut it off.....the vehicle not surprisingly just took off like any other vehicle would.

    There are three beeps that the SKS sounds when the engine is running and the SKS Fob is moved outside the frame of the car. It seems that the service writer ignored them, never heard them or didnt know what they meant.

    As in most things the first explanation often seems to me 'It's not my fault, I did nothing wrong, it must be the ......' Usually it's operator error that ends up being the cause of a problem.
  • plawlerplawler Posts: 2
    Actually your "test" only worked because you were going very slowly in a parking lot. If you pressed the Power button at speed it would have given you a warning "Beep!" and done nothing.

    Same thing if you tried to shift to reverse at speed.
  • Sorry to hear that your car got in an accident, but these guys are right. Your accident wasn't any fault of the car's design. The service adviser simply didn't put it in park, any vehicle can be turned off in gear and that is exactly what they did.

    Also, as plawler stated, your low speed test to turn off the vehicle is flawed, due to the speed you were traveling at. If you were at higher speed simply pressing the power button would do nothing. However, if you press and hold the power button for 3 seconds, the car will shut down. (Look at page 304 of your owner's manual)

    This is a very important safety feature for two reasons. For one, having a set time for how long you hold down the button prevents people from accidentally shutting off the vehicle. If the button is held for three seconds, that shows that you have intent to turn off the vehicle and it is reasonable for the vehicle to assume that the driver has a specific reason for wanting to do so.

    This leads to reason two, "the run away car" scenario. There are stories everywhere about people driving their car (any car not necessarily TCHs) and then suddenly the car begins to accelerate uncontrollably. 90% of the time it is caused by a floor mat getting pushed on top of the accelerator, sometimes its something more serious. But in either case there absolutely HAS to be a way to disable the vehicle in such a scenario. That is why you can turn off the vehicle.

    The smart key system didn't add to your accident, one person's stupidity did.
  • kimikopikimikopi Posts: 2

    That Toyota dealership should definite work with your insurance company to give you a brand new TCH. A mistake like that is ridiculous and negligent. That employee is probably the laughing stock of her dealership right now. Get an attorney if they're stubborn about it.

  • plknjplknj Posts: 121
    Love my TCH... as I was coming around a sharp curve a Dodge truck was coming south... he lost control and spun into my land actually landing on top of my hood.

    Damage extending from the left headlight to the passenger door. Because it was an odd hit the air bags did not deploy! Aside from hitting the column by the window I came out with no broken bones!!! Other injuries to be determined later.

    The estimate is not in yet, but we are guessing in the $10,000 range! The windshield cracked and it went into the pillar going up to the roof. My great dealer... says that it will take close to a month to get it back up to specs.

    Have camera phone pics but do not know how to get them on line. Love my TCH... I credit it for my not having any broken bones... it absorbed most of the impact... I was probably going around 20 and he was probably at 40 losing control.

    Oh yes, now in a Dodge Charger.... boy do I miss my TCH.... better mpg, quieter, and more decked out.
  • When I drive my vehicle, I experience the following:
    Swollen sinus mucous membranes, metal taste in my mouth, burning eyes. I drive a lot in my job. I have had my vehicle into the dealership multiple times and they always say they cannot duplicate my complaint. I don't think it can be "duplicated". I think you have to drive the car like I drive the car.
    Has anyone else had an issue similar? Is there nothing to do but sell?
  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    Why do you suggest your problems are the result of EMF, electro magnetic fields? There are other, more likely, causes. Allergies, for one. Swollen sinuses are a common reaction to an allergy.

    New cars are host to all manner of bonding agents and chemicals that might trigger an allergic reaction in you and almost no one else. But, given the popularity of Camrys, it's a safe bet that the cars aren't making many people ill.

    Good luck.
  • talmy1talmy1 Posts: 55
    There is an ion generator in the left dash vent that purifies the air but might be causing your problems. I'd suggest having it disconnected. Also check your cabin air filter for possible mold accumulation.

    I've never heard of this problem before, but I know some people have been bothered by the ionizers and dirty filters.
  • I am just trying to find out what is causing me to feel ill on occassion and why my car emits an odor which causes me to taste a metal chemical, smell a noxious smell, go hoarse, and irritate my membranes. I have done hours of research and have only found the EMF issues stated as to a possible cause. I am an RN and should have disclosed that so you would understand that I have already ruled out the allergy and chemical allergic cause. This does not happen on a continuous basis which for me rules out a continuous contaminate. I am looking at the next reply which may have nailed it. Ionization may not bother everyone and I may just be the one who cannot tolerate that process to my respiratory tract. This person's reply was helpful and nonjudgemental. What is your agenda? You seem to want to beat me up with your information. Not everyone posting on these sites are gunning for bear. Some of us are honestly seeking a solution to a problem from others more learned.
  • Thank-you for this information! This could very well be part if not the cause. Yesterday when I started out on my travel, the heating/air was in the off position-no fan on. There was hot air blowing from the chest level vents which I found curious. I turned on my heating system then off. The hot air was still coming out. I turned on the AC and cooled off the air then turned the system off and it quit blowing while the system was in the off mode. Yesterday, my symptoms were more exaggerated than they have been in months. I find that curious.
    I had purchased a car several years ago and noticed a noxious odor in the cabin. I returned it to the dealer and they had an ionizer placed inside to treat the odor. When I got the car back, the smell was worse and now I remember I had some of the same symptoms as I have now. That is why I will try disconnecting the part you speak of and see if there is an improvement. I have changed my current vehicle cabin filter several times. I have sprayed the interior and trunk with Fabreze and Lysol (at different times) with no great result. Thanks to you and those like you who are here trying to help!
  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    Wow! And here I thought you were being judgmental, since nothing in your post supported the idea that EMFs were to blame. I thought I was just asking a reasonable question under the circumstances.

    Had you provided some info that connected EMFs to the problem or said that you'd already investigated and ruled out allergies, I most likely wouldn't have replied to your post, which, in hindsight, is what I should have done anyway.

    Nevertheless, good luck in resolving the problem.
  • rks6rks6 Posts: 6

    I am a Fleet Manager in Toronto and we have been investigating the issue of EMF in Hybrids for over a year. We've done some thorough testing with our power consultant and have decided not to add hybrids to the fleet for those who spend most of their working day in the vehicle.

    There is an interesting thread on Edmunds you should read about a Lexus 450h

    This owner appears to be exhibiting symptoms of EMS (Electro Magnetic Sensitivity). An extreme reaction to EMF. Some of her symptoms are similar to yours. (i.e. burning/watering eyes.)

    EMF can be reduced in hybrid vehicles by the use of nickel shielding. This unfortunately adds weight and cost. The culprit in the vehicle is largely the wiring harness which connects the ac/dc inverter in the engine bay to the NiMH battery in the trunk. On the Camry, the harness traverses the passenger side of the vehicle. In the Prius, the cable runs on the driver's side. For the average person, undertaking the installation of shielding simply isn't practical. Toyota has all the tools to do it; they choose not to.

    Auto manufacturers are going to have deal with EMF from a human exposure viewpoint moving forward. As hybrids and full electric vehicles become more commonplace, EMF exposure levels are bound to rise.

    For you, I would try to ascertain if indeed you are suffering from EMS. If you are,
    I would sell the vehicle. You'll spend a lot of aftermarket money trying to reduce your EMF levels and you may only be able to reduce them marginally.

    If it's not EMS then you'll also need to decide if EMF is a real concern for you.
    For someone who uses their vehicle occassionally then perhaps 150 to 300 mG is acceptable. However, if you're in the vehicle for most of the day, who knows what 10 to 15 years of accumulated exposure would do.

    There is lots on information on the internet but in the end, you'll have to make your own decision.


  • Thank-you for your post. While I cannot be 100% sure what is the cause of my symptoms, I know I am suffering. All of what I have read seems to point to EMF or the plasmacluster ionizer....or both.
  • rks6rks6 Posts: 6

    I'm not sure if you can shut off the plasmacluster on the Camry Hybrid but that is where I would start. Does the manual say anything? Perhaps the plasmacluster has it's own fuse.

    I would be curious if you experience symptoms while driving a Prius. The EMF levels are higher in the Prius according to our testing. If the symptoms are present, EMS could be the cause. Perhaps you have a friend who owns a Prius or even try renting one for a day to see if you react.


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