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Prius Problem Exposes Toyota's Bigger Headache

2010 Toyota Prius
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2010 Toyota Prius

By now, most of you have either read about or watched TV reports about a man in California who says his 2008 Prius raced out of control for more than 30 miles on the highway.

His story is a scary one in which he says the car kept speeding up even as he hit the brake.

It wasn't until a California Highway Patrol officer caught beside him and yelled over the squad cars PA system to use the emergency brake that the driver could get the Prius to slow down to 50 MPH where the driver then could turn the car off and safely bring it to a stop.

The driver says he checked the floor mat (the '08 Prius is part of the floor mat recall) and that wasn't the problem. The Highway patrol officer says he could see the brake lights of the Prius were on and he could smell the brakes as he approached the car after it stopped.

There in a nutshell are the facts as we know them.

While Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating the car and the incident, the real problem for Toyota is that this incident raises new questions about the company.

Specifically, people are asking if this case shows Toyota has a bigger problem with its cars?

Yes, I know that there are people who will be skepticalof the Prius driver's story. Just as there are others who are convinced this is one more case of Toyota vehicles have a serious problem with their electronics. But it's the big group in between who are going to hear this story and say, "Hmmm, what's going on?" They may not make up their minds either way, but this has created enough uncertainty to make them think twice before driving or buying a Toyota. As a friend of mine who has been a happy and loyal Toyota owner told me this morning, "I now find myself taking my foot off the gas on the highway every so often just to see how the car will react."

The runaway Prius in California may not have hit other cars and nobody was injured, but Toyota will suffer because it will keep the public asking, "Do they know everything that's wrong with these cars?"

On a day when Toyota showed a technical demonstration refuting allegations that it may have flaws in its electronics, one incident on a California highway has blown coverage of the technical display completely out of the water.

Instead of things returning to normal, Toyota once again finds itself defending the safety of its vehicles.

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