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Toyota Rebuts Professor's Sudden-Acceleration Test Methods

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In a video webcast for the media, Toyota also showed that similar, dramatic engine-speed increases can be induced in other brands of vehicles using this testing method.

Last month, Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert performed a demonstration for ABC News that showed a Toyota Avalon accelerating after he applied an electric current to the vehicle’s electronics. In today’s presentation, Toyota and engineering consulting firm Exponent described the steps Gilbert took in his test and then explained the problems with it.

Exponent officials said Gilbert’s test involved cutting three of the six wires leading from the accelerator-pedal assembly to add a new resistor and power connection to the system. While this process — which officials described as a re-engineering of the system — doesn’t record an error code in the engine’s computer, Exponent said that for this short to occur, it would need to skip over two wires — one for grounding and another for power. However, there’s no explainable way for that to happen, and if either of those wires were affected, an error code would register.

As part of the presentation, Toyota also demonstrated what would happen to a Ford Fusion and a BMW 3 Series if they were modified like Gilbert’s Avalon. When tested, the engines in both cars revved quickly to their maximum rpm and, like the Toyota, didn’t record any error codes in the engine computer.

While corroded wires could lead to some sort of short in a car’s electrical system, Exponent said that Gilbert didn’t offer evidence that corrosion had affected the wires leading to the pedal, as the wires are encased in various seals to protect against the elements. Toyota said it hasn’t seen corrosion, either.

Photo of Mike Hanley
Mike Hanley has more than 20 years of experience reporting on the auto industry. His primary focus is new vehicles, and he's currently a Senior Road Test Editor overseeing expert car reviews and comparison tests. He previously managed Editorial content in the Research section. Email Mike Hanley

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