Almost never do I write a blog here that isn't on Saturdays, but something happened, which I feel compelled to write about as a warning to others.
Because our son and daughter-in-law had one of their vehicles break down, we said hey, borrow our Highlander while we are gone. Saturday they drove out to get it as well as ramps he would use for fixing their vehicle.
Our daughter-in-law, with our grandsons, left the farm with the Highlander. Less than a mile from the house, going down some S curves which drop maybe 50 feet, she felt the brakes suddenly were sluggish. She stepped on them harder and at the bottom of that hill, the vehicle took off and began to gain speed-- on its own.
We assume the cruise control kicked in. She didn't turn it on. She stepped on the brake, which should have turned off any cruise control or at least stopped the vehicle. It did not. Then she shoved her other foot as hard as she could onto the emergency brake. It barely slowed the forward momentum.
This is a two lane, country road. About 1/4 mile from where she was, missing a bridge abutment, she came to our small, community store with a wide gravel lot. Still pushing as hard as she could on both pedals, it barely slowed the vehicle to 40 mph when she went off the highway into the lot. She circled the vehicle, trying to get it to slow or hopefully stop. Finally she had turned it toward a neighboring woodpile. She ran into it. The Highlander was still revving its engine, and she turned off the key to finally have it stop. If she had missed that woodpile, she'd have gone into the nearby river with our two grandsons in the backseat...
You can imagine how we felt after we got the phone call to tell us what happened. Still today I feel teary as I imagine the other way this could have ended.
Although I had read, and do read about any possible recalls or problems with vehicles, I had read nothing about the Highlander doing this. After some research online, it turns out that it's known to happen to the year we have at between 80-100,000 miles. Our Highlander had 85,000 miles on it with never a clue previously that this could happen by anything it had done.
Today I feel shaky as I think how lucky we were and how other families have not been. We have all read about vehicles that did this, and it ended up with deaths. This could have been the same story had it happened elsewhere.
Our daughter-in-law has always been beloved by us. I think the world of her, but now she is also my hero for keeping her head and managing to stop that vehicle that was doing all it could to kill her and our grandsons.
When we researched it, we learned how it is happening to the years between 2004 and 2009, and how Toyota is doing all they can to avoid paying lawsuits where death was the result. Besides being furious, I keep thinking, how could manufacturers value money above lives? I know it happens all the time with water quality, air safety, and other manufacturing malfunctions but again I keep thinking-- how can it seem cheaper to settle some lawsuits than it is to fix something that has the potential to kill people. Wouldn't you think they would at least warn owners? Where is our news media in this? Since we bought this one new, we are the only owner it has had. We should have been told even if the incidents are rare. Frankly when it's your family, it's not rare!
Even though there were no injuries from this accident, it was no thanks to the vehicle. It was a combination of happening at the right place but mostly thanks to our daughter-in-law keeping her head. This has impacted us all with stress that doesn't go away. We were lucky. Not everyone is. We haven't yet talked to Toyota about the Highlander. We will do that tomorrow. For now we will have a friend tow it back to the farm.
Here's the thing. They say that if you turn off the key while it's driving down the road, it disables the airbags, power brakes, and the power steering. You then have no control. The only thing you can do is put it in neutral-- if you can get it there.
So, we'll let our SUV set there while we consider what to do with it. Obviously my choice would be to shove it off a cliff, but we'll see what kind of excuses we get from Toyota tomorrow. I can imagine it will be denials of responsibility. Just a fluke. Not their fault. grrrrrr Anyway, I didn't wait to write this because my reason for it doesn't relate to what our family experienced.
If you are driving a Toyota, any model, do some online research to see what other drivers have experienced. In fact, if you are driving any of these new vehicles where computers make it soooooo much better, do some research on known problems for your model. It could save yours or your loved one's lives.
Right now I need to take some deep breaths and try to not think about how different today could have been :(.