Runaway Toyota Poised to Strike Again, Thanks to Local Dealership

April 20, 2010

Due to the recent downturn in the economy, it is quite obvious that many businesses are suffering (not to mention our neighbors, family and friends). Businesses have so many obligations…. their shareholders, their employees, their vendors, but what about their obligation to be ethical in their business practices?

Not so long ago, I believe that many business owners and executives did the right thing. They took the high road because they were ethical and they knew that taking short cuts (lying and cheating) would be their undoing in the long run. 

Today, we have banking institutions (like Goldman Sacs) that have come under fire because they have possibly conducted themselves in an unethical manner which may have caused harm to folks who purchased stocks from them.

We have also been a witness to many other instances where the consumer was enticed in to Ponzi schemes where many of them lost much, or all of their wealth.

You know, it’s one thing to lose the money that you have invested, but it’s another thing to lose your life (and perhaps the lives of others) because of the unethical practices of unscrupulous business owners.

Together, let’s examine a situation that I recently talked about on my radio show. I interviewed Irene Simonetti who was the owner of a 2010 Toyota RAV4 that she purchased in December 2009.  She thought very highly about the quality of Toyota vehicles and when she was notified about a recall concerning an unintended acceleration issue, Irene scheduled an appointment with the dealership and took her RAV4 in right away to get it fixed.

Irene had owned Toyota’s in the past and she purchased a new one because she was so comfortable with their great reputation and that they had been very dependable for her in the past. .

A couple of months after having the recall work performed which would have eliminated the risk of any runaway “unintended acceleration” issue, Irene was on her way to a doctors appointment when her RAV4 became unresponsive when she applied the brake as she exited the freeway at I-17 and the Carefree Highway. At a speed of 65 MPH. she was unable to get the vehicle to slow down as she approached the busy intersection at 7:45 AM on a Tuesday morning. Having operated a vehicle for 45+ years, her instincts were to put the vehicle in neutral and apply the brakes. The engine revved furiously and with both feet on the brake pedal, she was able to bring her car to a complete stop in the middle of an intersection without causing an accident.

As you can guess, Irene was very upset and quite worried after this event. She had her vehicle towed to a local Toyota dealership that day.

After a few days of the car being at the dealership, Irene and her husband Bob were told that the reason her vehicle had this runaway condition was due to the floor mat being jammed up against the accelerator pedal (which was not valid in this instance). This seems to be the standard dealership response that folks hear after encountering this runaway condition. Irene and Bob believed that this runaway condition would happen again with their RAV4 and they did not want to drive this vehicle again.

In need of transportation, Bob and Irene were referred to a local dealership after telling their story on TV. NOTE: This dealership has a relationship with the TV station and knew that it had experienced a runaway condition. The dealership made them an even trade in on another make of vehicle and Bob and Irene accepted the offer.

Business ethics (being what they are these days) we discovered that Irene’s RAV4 was up for sale at a sister dealership down the street.

Because Toyota has not determined the cause of the unintended acceleration issue on their vehicles OR any other Toyota or Lexus vehicle, we have to assume that this RAV4 is being resold to an unsuspecting buyer who may be faced with the same runaway condition that Irene experienced.

This time, will the new vehicle owner of the RAV4 injure others when the car goes in to runaway mode? As in past situations around the country, will people die after being involved in an accident with one of these cars? Is common sense uncommon now? Should we expect business people to do the right thing and keep these vehicles off the road until there is a real fix for the Toyota vehicles? Should Toyota be paying the dealers to keep these vehicles in storage until there is a real fix for this malfunction?

It’s a tragedy that this vehicle is sitting on a car dealerships lot and the dealer is waiting for someone to purchase it. Will it be a family of 5? Could it be your family that purchases this vehicle? It’s not just an isolated incident involving this one car at one dealership…it may be thousands of cars!

Whether it’s a private party or a dealership sale, and the seller has experienced a runaway condition or other serious malfunction, they should be legally obligated to present the car buyer with this information. If not, and this vehicle is in an accident because of this condition and people are injured or killed, should the seller face criminal penalties or manslaughter charges?

Please, everyone, remember that these cars are out there so stay alert and drive defensively!

 Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate and the host of Your Auto Network’s Calling All Cars radio show on KXXT 1010 AM Phoenix and KXEG 1280 AM Phoenix. Cary is also on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry as an engineering technician at G.M. as well as being an auto repair shop owner for 10 years. You can download the radio show by going to You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.