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Toyota Camry Hybrid Safety Concerns

PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 7,759
edited August 2014 in Toyota
This is the place to discuss safety issues for the Toyota Camry hybrid.

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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.


  • If I am unable to sell, I plan to see if the plasmacluster can be disabled. I will repost if I go this route just for FYI. How disappointing!!
  • talmy1talmy1 Posts: 55
    If I were you I'd check the ionizer first. If that solves the problem the solution is far less expensive than the loss of selling the car!
  • A couple years ago I was given a Sharper Image
    Ionizer ( I forgot the exact name).
    Looking forward to the experience of clean fresh air,
    I turned it on in my living room.
    Within minutes, what I experienced was an asthma attack.
    ie, my bronchial tubes tightened and I felt a shortness of breath.
    The machine is now sitting in my shed.
    I'm shopping for a new car and discovered that the Camry I was
    getting ready to buy has this ionizing contraption.
    I spoke to one of the mechanics at the dealership in Virginia
    and he told me that it could not be disabled.
    I had hoped to buy a hybrid Camry or even a Prius and am very disappointed.
    I'm looking at what Honda has to offer.
    So, Ms. Patterson, you're not alone.
    I'd be curious if and how you resolved this issue.
    I don't log on here much, but feel free to contact me
    regarding the outcome.
    I plan on contacting Toyota myself.
    Best of luck.
  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    You may be confusing ozone generators with ion generators. The Sharper Image air cleaner has come under criticism for generating ozone (as well as not working!). The Toyota Plasmacluster system generates positive and negative ions. The two are not the same.
  • nkaizernkaizer Posts: 25
    I just bought a 2009 TCH and love the mileage benefits over my traded-in Infiniti, but saw an unnerving article in this Sunday's NY Times about the health risks of Hybrid cars; Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive in particular. Here is the very well written and awakening NYT article from 4/28/2008.

    Fear, but Few Facts, on Hybrid Risk
    ALMOST without exception, scientists and policy makers agree that hybrid vehicles are good for the planet. To a small but insistent group of skeptics, however, there is another, more immediate question: Are hybrids healthy for drivers?

    Mary DiBiase Blaich for The New York Times

    Driving a hybrid made Neysa Linzer drowsy.

    There is a legitimate scientific reason for raising the issue. The flow of electrical current to the motor that moves a hybrid vehicle at low speeds (and assists the gasoline engine on the highway) produces magnetic fields, which some studies have associated with serious health matters, including a possible risk of leukemia among children.

    With the batteries and power cables in hybrids often placed close to the driver and passengers, some exposure to electromagnetic fields is unavoidable. Moreover, the exposure will be prolonged — unlike, say, using a hair dryer or electric shaver — for drivers who spend hours each day at the wheel.

    Some hybrid owners have actually tested their cars for electromagnetic fields using hand-held meters, and a few say they are alarmed by the results.

    Their concern is not without merit; agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge the potential hazards of long-term exposure to a strong electromagnetic field, or E.M.F., and have done studies on the association of cancer risks with living near high-voltage utility lines.

    While Americans live with E.M.F.’s all around — produced by everything from cellphones to electric blankets — there is no broad agreement over what level of exposure constitutes a health hazard, and there is no federal standard that sets allowable exposure levels. Government safety tests do not measure the strength of the fields in vehicles — though Honda and Toyota, the dominant hybrid makers, say their internal checks assure that their cars pose no added risk to occupants.

    Researchers with expertise in hybrid-car issues say that while there may not be cause for alarm, neither should the potential health effects be ignored.
    end of article
    * * *
    While I'm not trading my car in just yet, it does give me more than a slight cause for concern with putting the little ones in the back seat for a two hour trip. Any additional information in this issue -- either way it falls -- would be appreciated.

    “It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about hybrid E.M.F. dangers, as well as a mistake to outright dismiss the concern,” said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Additional research would improve our understanding of the issue.”

    Charges that automobiles expose occupants to strong electromagnetic fields were made even before hybrids became popular. In 2002, a Swedish magazine claimed its tests found that three gasoline-powered Volvo models produced high E.M.F. levels. Volvo countered that the magazine had compared the measurements with stringent standards advanced by a Swedish labor organization, not the more widely accepted criteria established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a group of independent scientific experts based near Munich.

    Much of the discussion over high E.M.F. levels has sprung from hybrid drivers making their own readings. Field-strength detectors are widely available; a common model, the TriField meter, costs about $145 online. But experts and automakers contend that it is not simple for a hybrid owner to make reliable, meaningful E.M.F. measurements.

    The concern over high E.M.F. levels in hybrids has come not just from worrisome instrument readings, but also from drivers who say that their hybrids make them ill.

    Neysa Linzer, 58, of Bulls Head in Staten Island, bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid in 2007 for the 200 miles a week she drove to visit grocery stores in her merchandising job for a supermarket chain. She said that the car reduced her gasoline use, but there were problems — her blood pressure rose and she fell asleep at the wheel three times, narrowly averting accidents.

    “I never had a sleepiness problem before,” Ms. Linzer said, adding that it was her own conclusion, not a doctor’s, that the car was causing the symptoms.

    Ms. Linzer asked Honda to provide her with shielding material for protection from the low-frequency fields, but the company declined her request last August, saying that its hybrid cars are “thoroughly evaluated” for E.M.F.’s before going into production. Ms. Linzer’s response was to have the car tested by a person she called her wellness consultant, using a TriField meter.

    The TriField meter is made by AlphaLab in Salt Lake City. The company’s president, Bill Lee, defends its use for automotive testing even though the meter is set up to test alternating current fields, whereas the power moving to and from a hybrid vehicle’s battery is direct current. “Generally, an A.C. meter is accurate in detecting large electromagnetic fields or microwaves,” he said.

    Testing with a TriField meter led Brian Collins of Encinitas, Calif., to sell his 2001 Honda Insight just six months after he bought it — at a loss of $7,000. He said the driver was receiving “dangerously high” E.M.F. levels of up to 135 milligauss at the hip and up to 100 milligauss at the upper torso. These figures contrasted sharply with results from his Volkswagen van, which measured one to two milligauss.

    Mr. Collins said he tried to interest Honda in the problem in 2001, but was assured that his car was safe. He purchased shielding made of a nickel-iron alloy, but because of high installation costs decided to sell the car instead.

    A spokesman for Honda, Chris Martin, points to the lack of a federally mandated standard for E.M.F.’s in cars. Despite this, he said, Honda takes the matter seriously. “All our tests had results that were well below the commission’s standard,” Mr. Martin said, referring to the European guidelines. And he cautions about the use of hand-held test equipment. “People have a valid concern, but they’re measuring radiation using the wrong devices,” he said.

    Kent Shadwick, controller of purchasing services for the York Catholic District School Board in York, Ontario, evaluated the Toyota Prius for fleet use. Mr. Shadwick said it was tested at various speeds, and under hard braking and rapid acceleration, using a professional-quality gauss meter.

    “The results that we saw were quite concerning,” he said. “We saw high levels in the vehicle for both the driver and left rear passenger, which has prompted us to explore shielding options
  • larsblarsb Posts: 8,204
    Molehill, meet Mountain.....(sigh)

    The critical piece of info in that article is this one:

    “All our tests had results that were well below the commission’s standard,” Mr. Martin said, referring to the European guidelines. And he cautions about the use of hand-held test equipment. “People have a valid concern, but they’re measuring radiation using the wrong devices,” he said."

    The Prius tested at 1/300ths the Euro limit.

    There are more than a million hybrid vehicle drivers in the world. This one lady (or 5 or 10) saying the "hybrid made her sleepy" is merely anecdotal, not proof of anything.
  • nkaizernkaizer Posts: 25
    I agree it's certainly nothing conclusive, but it's nevertheless tough getting a kick in the [non-permissible content removed] when you try and do something good.
  • larsblarsb Posts: 8,204
    Hey, I didn't "kick" anyone anywhere. I just wrote my opinion on accuracy of the piece.

    Not an attack on the messenger AT ALL, ANY SHAPE OR FORM.
  • nkaizernkaizer Posts: 25
    You misunderstood me. I did not take your sound comments to be a kick in the [non-permissible content removed]. I meant that it was tough to get unsettling news about the dangers of driving a hybrid after biting the bullet and actually getting one.
  • lzclzc Posts: 483
    My opinion, for what it's worth, is that there are too many articles these days designed more to frighten than inform. This article hits the bullseye in that regard.

    Of the many studies on EMFs none have established a correlation between workers, in power plants, etc., who are routinely exposed to higher magnetic fields and disease. That is, no evidence of increased cancer, shorter lifespan, etc.

    As far there not being "broad agreement" on the issue, don't hold your breath. One isn't likely anytime soon. There are still (small) numbers of people who oppose pasteurizing milk. And don't even bring up the subject of microwave ovens! :)
This discussion has been closed.