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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gas pedal stuck? Avoid stomping it to "fix" it.

Spending more than a few spare moments on reddit has introduced me to a variety of crazy dash cam videos. Two of them in recent days show unintended acceleration followed by a spectacular crash. Not too long ago, there was that whole thing in this country about Toyota and/or Lexus cars supposedly having acceleration problems, too.

I've been in that situation, and everything worked out okay. This is my story.

I had this old car which had turned the corner in terms of maintainability. I wasn't driving it nearly as often as I should have been, so it was starting to "rot". Parts were getting sticky or weird.

One day, I was driving in my neighborhood (narrow roads, 25 mph) just to drop something off a few miles away. I got down there okay, but I noticed that my gas pedal was just ... weird. It wasn't really moving properly. My idle was fast enough to where it wasn't a problem, so I went out anyway.

Well, on the way back, I wondered what was going on, so on a relatively straight stretch of road, I decided to try pushing down harder than usual to see if I could "unstick" it. This was a spectacularly bad idea.

My gas pedal dropped to the floor and stayed there. Not surprisingly, my engine responded in kind by making a horrible roaring noise, just like I had floored it to get on the freeway. Only... I was in my neighborhood on a tiny little road that came to a T intersection about a quarter mile later.

I had never planned for this or even really thought about what to do, but still, I managed to do something productive about it. First, I pushed in the gear selector knob (it was an automatic) and pushed it forward into neutral. That'll stop me from being pushed forward out of control, but now my engine has no load attached and is roaring like crazy.

So, I have to shut it down. I turned the key to OFF. This, of course, has the potential to lock the steering column so I immediately turned it back to ON. Then I just sort of coasted to the side of the road, stopped (with more brake pedal force than usual) and put it in park.

Crisis averted. Total time elapsed must have been five or ten seconds at the most, but it was a seriously scary time.

Anyway, I called a tow truck and had my mechanic deal with it. Apparently some valve that did throttle control had gotten sticky, and it had been stuck nearly closed (the fast idle situation). Then, when I got it loose, it managed to open all the way up, and then got stuck there. Since there was a direct linkage between that and my pedal, it stayed on the floor.

I ultimately got rid of this car because it was old and cranky, and besides, it scared the hell out of me. But, somehow, when things got really crazy, I didn't do anything particularly foolish or stupid. Maybe I was just lucky.