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Published: Tuesday, 3/16/2010

Toyota: Analysis refutes Prius runaway claim


SAN DIEGO - Toyota Motors Corp. cast doubt yesterday on a California man's claim that his Prius sped out of control, saying the report is inconsistent with the company's preliminary findings.

Toyota said in a statement that the accelerator pedal was tested and found to work normally; a backup safety system also worked properly. The automaker said the front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating, but the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition.

Motorist James Sikes said his car raced to 94 mph on a freeway near San Diego on March 8. He stopped the car with help from a California Highway Patrol officer.

"While a final report is not yet complete, there are strong indications that the driver's account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis," the statement said.

Toyota said testing found the car's accelerator pedal had no mechanical binding or friction and the floor mat was not interfering with or touching the pedal. A self-diagnostic system did show evidence of repeated applications of the accelerator and brake pedals, Toyota said. "The data from the diagnostics test indicated that the accelerator and the brake had been rapidly pressed, alternately back and forth, 250 times," said Mike Michels, vice president of corporate communications for Toyota Motor Sales USA.

The Prius has a self-protection system that cuts engine power if the brake pedal is pressed moderately or greater. Tests found that system to be functioning, the carmaker said. The company also said the car's push-button power switch worked normally and shut off the vehicle when pressed for 3 seconds and that the shift lever worked normally and allowed neutral to be selected.

The power management computer contained no diagnostic trouble codes, and the dashboard malfunction lights were not activated, Toyota said.

Federal regulators are reviewing data from the hybrid but have not found anything to explain the wild acceleration reported by Mr. Sikes. John H. Gomez, his attorney, said the failure to recreate the incident was insignificant and not surprising. "They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration."

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