We were cruising down to work on the Garden State Parkway this morning in our 2009 Toyota Corolla when a disturbing bulletin was broadcast over the car radio.
The announcer informed us that Toyota has halted U.S. production and sales of eight of its most popular models, including Camry and Corolla. The world’s largest carmaker is trying to determine why the gas pedals on its cars keep getting stuck in the acceleration mode, causing the cars to speed up on their own.
Two months ago, Toyota recalled millions of its 2009 and 2010 vehicles. At that time, the Japanese auto giant said it thought the problem was due to bulky floor mats accidentally trapping the gas pedals. Unfortunately for Toyota, while they were busy redesigning their killer floor mats four people riding in a Toyota Avalon near Dallas died on Dec. 26 when the car suddenly accelerated and they couldn’t stop it. Having heard the original warning from Toyota, the driver had placed the floor mats in the trunk of the car before getting behind the wheel.
This scary news was bad enough, but it got worse when the radio announcer said Toyota is telling motorists not to bring their cars back to their friendly Toyota dealership until the carmaker can figure out what is causing the problem. However, Toyota wants to assure its customers that the problem is “rare.” Sort of like holding the winning ticket in the Mega-Death Lottery.
So if your trusty Corolla suddenly decides to switch to warp drive, stand on the brake pedal and recite the 23rd Psalm. Thank you very much, Mr. Toyota.
Our mind immediately flashed back to Audi’s famous “Death Car” debacle. About 25 years ago, the German luxury sports car inexplicably started speeding up and crashing. Audi didn’t blame the floor mats — they blamed the drivers. The carmaker insisted for months that Audi drivers must have been hitting the gas pedal when they thought they were stepping on the brake. Numerous crashes later, it became apparent that human error was not the cause of the problem. The machines were killing people. We don’t remember if Audi every figured out what caused the problem, but we do recall that we didn’t see too many Audis on the road for the next 10 years.
We started to envision several scenarios for putting our potentially homicidal Corolla to work for us:
— Skip work. Drive to Florida. Call the boss and tell him the car wouldn’t stop until we arrived at Fort Lauderdale, just in time for Spring Break.
— Drive the car into a brick wall. Total the thing. Call the insurance company and tell them the car wouldn’t stop. Get a new car from the insurance company. Not a Toyota.
— Break the land-speed record on the Garden State Parkway. When finally tracked down by New Jersey State Troopers, smile and point to the Toyota emblem on the steering wheel.
As we pulled into the toll plaza, we envisioned cash-strapped New Jersey installing on the Parkway those big hooks they use on aircraft carriers to snare F-16s coming in for a landing. The hooks will grab out-of-control Camrys and Corollas so the drivers can cough up their dollar bills.
For a moment, we also thought about Tiger Woods. If only he had been driving a Rav-4 when he plowed into that fire hydrant in front of his house on Thanksgiving. “My pedal got stuck in acceleration mode and I couldn’t stop,” he could have told the world, sparing us weeks of lascivious reports about unsavory trysts and his spouse teeing off on his noggin with a five iron.
Then again, getting stuck in acceleration mode and not stopping is probably too close to what actually ails Tiger.
Finally, we did the only thing we could do. We kept driving. But we had this uneasy feeling that our relationship with our friendly Corolla had been permanently altered. The smiling Toyota logo on the steering wheel started looking like Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Deep down, we knew it was just a matter of time before the car snapped and turned on us.
At this point, we don’t know if Toyota’s gas pedal fiasco will erase its no. 1 automaker status faster than Kentucky’s stint atop the NCAA basketball polls. But, since the honor of Japan is at stake, we assume the solution will involve profuse apologies.
Spare us the apology ritual, Mr. Toyota. Just meet us at our local Toyota dealership tomorrow morning and give us another car. Make it a Honda.