The NHTSA has announced the results of their investigation into a runaway 2008 Toyota Prius (Leonid Mamchenkov, Flickr)

    by: Michael Zak, AOL Autos

    If Toyota was hoping for a quick resolution to its various problems with sticky accelerators and braking problems, the company was dealt a series of blows last week following reports that drivers suffered more incidents due to unintended acceleration. However, new tests last week by U.S. government officials and Toyota revealed that a San Diego Prius driver likely misled police when he said his car sped out of control last week. The credibility of the driver, James Sikes, was called into question last week when new information surfaced about his background. Technicians with Toyota and NHTSA have found that the incident could not be duplicated during a federal investigation into last week’s dramatic episode.

    The results came to light in a memo prepared for the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform.

    “Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down,” read the memo.

    NHTSA's finding is in line with the Prius's brake override system -- in place on Sikes's car -- that uses software to cut engine power “if the brakes are applied with moderate to heavy force,” said Mike Michels, a spokesman for Toyota in an e-mailed statement to BusinessWeek.

    A Toyota official who was present at the inspection in San Diego said that that an electric motor in the Prius would “completely seize” if that override system had failed. During the investigation there was no evidence found that supported that occurring during Sikes’ incident.

    Given these circumstances, the memo said that "it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically, that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time."

    The fact that the NHTSA investigation has yielded no findings added further skepticism to Sikes’ account of the incident as the results directly conflict with what he has said happened. 

    According to his explanation, the 2008 Toyota Prius had inexplicably accelerated to 94 MPH on a San Diego freeway and would not slow down, even though he was standing on the brake with both feet and attempting to pull up the gas pedal with his hands.

    He claimed he was only able to come to a stop with the help of a California Highway Patrol Officer who caught up to Sikes after he called 911 and had been traveling close to 100 MPH for more than 20 minutes.

    “I won't drive that car again, period,” said the visibly shaken Sikes after the terrifying event. 

    With technicians unable to find what exactly went wrong during his ordeal, the cracks in his story appear to be widening even more.

    “These findings certainly raise new questions surrounding the veracity of the sequence of events that has been reported by Mr. Sikes,” a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, the lead Republican on the House Oversight Committee, stated.

    Sikes, however, remains defiant.

    “That’s not surprising; NHTSA’s never been able to replicate one of these incidents,” said John Gomez, Sikes's attorney. “Toyota denies they happen at all. Mr. Sikes drove the vehicle for three years without incident. The idea that they couldn’t make it happen again really doesn’t show anything.”

    Though Sikes stands by his story, the deck is certainly stacked in favor of Toyota, who will make a statement regarding the investigation today at 3:30PM, EDT.

    Given the available evidence, Toyota seems poised for victory in the James Sikes runaway Prius saga.

    The automaker, however, is far from being out of the woods.

    Deceptive Practices?

    Even though Toyota may come out of the Sikes episode with minimal damage, another incident in California has them, yet again, in hot water.

    Have the Sikes and Rackauckas incidents done permanent damage to Toyota?

    In an entirely separate case, the district attorney of Orange County, California has filed a lawsuit against Toyota, alleging that the company sold thousands of vehicles knowing that they had potential for unintended acceleration.

    The attorney, Tony Rackauckas, has charged the automaker with engaging in deceptive business practices and seeks $2,500 per violation and a court order blocking Toyota from selling defective vehicles as warranted by the Unfair Business Practices Act, the AP reported.

    According to The Detroit News, Rackauckas alleged that even though evidence of Toyota’s safety problems has been “massive for many years,” the company and its American subsidiary ignored the issues and settled any lawsuits that may have publicly disclosed the truth.

    The DA has claimed that “rather than halt sales of products in California until it genuinely fixed the problem, [Toyota] made the business decision to continue selling their defective products,” in an 18-page complaint. He alleged the company “ignored, omitted, obfuscated and misrepresented the evidence.”

    The civil lawsuit is the first of its kind in the United States and, if Rackauckas is successful, will “enjoin [Toyota] from continuing to endanger the public through the sale of defective vehicles and deceptive business practices.”

    Toyota has not commented on the lawsuit or the allegations.

    The automaker is already subject to a growing number of civil lawsuits from owners of its vehicles who have either experienced unintended acceleration or are scared that it may happen to them.

    Given these circumstances, Toyota may find itself wading through lawsuits for a very long time, especially if cases similar to that of Rackauckas’ follow as more counties or even entire states could file suit in the same manner.

    Asked Rackauckas, “We demand to know: Did Toyota, in their relentless pursuit to become the No. 1 carmaker in the United States, put profits over people?”

    Too Big To Fade Away?

    Even if Toyota ends up finding a quick resolution to the James Sikes incident, it's unlikely the company will be able to find a similarly swift ending to the lawsuits they will face, not to mention a long climb rebuilding their public image. Our story about James Sikes and his allegedly false claims racked up some 3000 comments and nearly 100,000 votes in which 81% of AOL users thought the whole ordeal was a fraud.

    One reason we know Toyota is going to have a hard time putting this behind them is that the Prius has now elevated to the level of pop culture topic du jour, what with NBC's Saturday Night Live spoofing a Prius in their show this weekend. Watch the clip for yourself below.

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    1 - 20 of 383 Comments
    boaringone Jul 26, 2010 10:56 PM
    It's one thing if you car doesn't start, ******** a hell of a big thing if it starts to accelerate on it's own and in a state of panic the driver (who may vary alot in age with varying degrees of driver skill) must resort to a method of stopping that vehicle in a very unorthodox way. Toyota did try to hide the unintended acceleration problem and was caught. Trust is something car buyers will lose, even those who have been loyal Toytota owners. Because Toyota has grown so much, as one of the worlds largest auto makers, it's quality control has deteriorated. It has become the "Japanese GM" , while the "Real GM" continues to improve on their vehicles. It doesn't matter, as long as the vehicle is SAFE!
    Report This
    zen1333 May 03, 2010 3:34 AM
    I think with the economy being the way it is that fraudulent cases such as this one are going to start coming out of the woodwork so to speak. Toyota being the number 1 car maker in the US makes them a perfect target with deep pockets. I know the economy is not doing well but that does not give people the right to commit fraud, slander and libel. What happened to peoples common decency. That should not start to go down the crapper along with the economy. I hope Toyota counter sues and sets an example of what happens when you commit fraud.
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    ru00045 Apr 13, 2010 2:39 PM
    In light of the suspected problems I tested my prius from 08' and have managed to put the car in neutral while driving by simply either pushing the stick toward neutral or by pressing the park button. I don&******************* know why this driver or other drivers claiming that their accelerator pedal gets stuck did not do either while driving even if there are problems with the system this should have worked. I was able to shift into neutral 2 ways even when my foot was firmly placed on the accelerator pedal
    Report This
    rosevang Apr 04, 2010 11:15 AM
    I think the San Diego freeway driver made this whole thing up. The court should fine or jail him for lying. I have been driven Toyota vehicles for over 30 years and will continue buying and driving them.
    Report This
    rubenu2 Mar 24, 2010 8:36 PM
    toyota wasn't at fault they make a big deal
    Report This
    thirtythreemile Mar 24, 2010 1:54 PM
    I've had a Toyota Tacoma purchased new in '******** been a terrific vehicle. Just bought a new Toyota 4runner. People sue for everything if they think they can make a buck. I'm like gentlevikingwolf, show me the proof!. I think the San Diego freeway driver is totally bogus.
    Report This
    mjpnrlp Mar 23, 2010 6:14 PM
    Who is their right mind with would believe ANYTHING Toyota has to say at this point, after they lied about never knowing about any acceleration problem in the past, when 2002 documents clearly show this was a huge concern. It's the same old lie that automakers have been trying to get away with for years--blame the operator of the vehicle. Deny, deny, deny!!! I would be much more inclined to believe the drivers than Toyota, at this point.
    Report This
    gentlevikingwolf Mar 23, 2010 4:41 PM
    Hey trshtp1129, please come up with some way to detect the liars at Toyota, You could put the conivers from the public into the same bag as the toyota managers who try to sell junk to us.
    Report This
    gentlevikingwolf Mar 23, 2010 3:23 PM
    Can someone show the actual tests that show this? I would like to run the test with instrumentation on the cars to store the results for later playback. I would not have trusted a Polaris Missile test without the documentation of the Instrumentation on the Submarine and down range. Do not tell me a test shows the car is fine with no proof, show me the proof!
    Report This
    dongliuy Mar 22, 2010 9:24 PM
    idont care what any of you people even said i read none of this what i do have to say is dont you people know what neutral is and emergentcy brake is god like some need send you people back to driver school. ive been at two hundred miles per hr put it in neutral shut it off slowly pull the eme brake
    Report This
    normanjkcm Mar 20, 2010 4:11 PM
    ooooo, my god my toyota has a mind of its own. its alive its alive . yesterday i saw it dating ford they had nothing incomin ,it was found on road dead
    Report This
    normanjkcm Mar 20, 2010 3:12 PM
    i dont care what any of you people even said i read none of this what i do have to say is dont you people know what neutral is and emergentcy brake is god like some need send you people back to driver school. ive been at two hundred miles per hr put it in neutral shut it off slowly pull the eme brake
    Report This
    banddkel Mar 19, 2010 9:27 PM
    False! Prius was at fault. Toyota just trying to cover up AGAIN! Hell, I bet that cop and his family faked their deaths too. Toyo bought another add here, with your money, and you Toyo fools believe it. How about all the other DEATHS these rice burners have caused? Lets bring more attention to those. WASTE OF TIME! Scrap Toyo! I remember playing with TOYs when I was 5. I guess some people never grow up! Read the report. Police could NOT find ANY evidence to indicate that this was a staged event! Even YOU TOYO drivers have admitted that SOMETIMES the crap takes off on its own. And SOMETIMES it drives OK.
    Report This
    z71924 Mar 19, 2010 11:21 AM
    the day after toyota announced its recall i had a ford customer come in and say there car was accelerating by itself, so i asked did you drive it in and she said yes, then i said do you know that concern your talking about pertains to toyota an she said oh. ok have a nice day. i said ill be more than happy to check out your vehicle for you today and that there was a diagnostic fee and she said. that wont be necessary. people just trying to make a buck. grow up.
    Report This
    dingdongyun Mar 19, 2010 8:15 AM
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    henryknox9 Mar 18, 2010 1:20 AM
    That's all B.S. I drove a Kia that would accelerate and decelerate randomly, Sometimes things happen on any car I had a Chevy truck that the fuel tank switch would not let you get to the other tank of fuel. there are so many factors that could effect the functions on cars that lawsuits should be thrown out, Toyota will fix the issue.I drive a Toyota now and it has been great.
    Report This
    dorwar Mar 17, 2010 11:35 PM
    Just another example of Toyota bashing! I wouldn't trade my Prius for any other make of car. What a hayday for the olde boys of GM, Chrysler, and Ford. For godness sake, give Toyota a brake! WW Az.
    Report This
    twomenopausal Mar 16, 2010 6:28 PM
    I also believe him. I had an 88 ford Tempo and the same thing happened to me. The gas pedal got stuck and the car would not stop it scared the bejesus out of me the only way I could slow down was to put the car in neutral and hit the brake the engine kept excelerating. I finally turned it of and coasted off the road. At that time not all cars has lock steering when you cut off the motor. I traded that car in right after that. Been there done that.
    Report This
    ccarr014 Mar 16, 2010 10:24 AM
    Christ can anyone spell today or yesterday for that matter?
    Report This
    ccarr014 Mar 16, 2010 10:17 AM
    The Black box told them this fool was riding the brakes and pressed and released them appox 250 times.
    Report This
    1 - 20 of 383 Comments
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    New tests by government officials and Toyota show the driver of a Toyota Prius was likely faking when he said his car sped out of control due to unintended acceleration.


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