Unintended acceleration claims didn’t fall back into vogue until sometime around 2009 when Toyota recalled approximately 10 million cars and trucks en masse because of the ailment, among other things. Now, it seems to be de rigueur, as Ford is now facing the same sort of investigation for its 2001 to 2004 Ford Escape crossover.
In January, a 17-year-old named Saige Bloom died when her 2002 Escape experienced unintended acceleration and she lost control. After months of angry petitions from outside organizations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a probe to investigate whether there was any validity to the claim of unintended acceleration.
The Ford Escape was recalled for an accelerator cable problem and fixed. But dealers later distributed an additional service bulletin suggesting those fixed cables could have been installed improperly. Bloom’s Escape could very well have been affected by that. Additionally, the NHTSA has received 99 complaints about unintended acceleration in the Ford Escape and the mechanically identical Mazda Tribute—13 crashes, eight injuries, and the one death included.
In the case of the recalled Toyotas, no mechanical problem was ever found—even after NASA investigated whether cosmic rays could have caused the problems. One Iowa senator even claims “tin whiskers” as a cause for the unintended acceleration, and he wants the NHTSA to reopen the case. We sense if there’s any tin to be found, it was likely made into a hat a long time ago.
Back in the 1980s when Audi had a similar problem, it was later found that careless drivers with two left feet couldn’t handle the fact that the brake and accelerator pedals were really close together. Drivers mashed one pedal but oftentimes got the other without thinking.
We’ll see if there’s any validity in the Ford Escape probe within a few months. But, as always, if a car is seemingly experiencing unintended acceleration, there’s one sure fix to the problem without turning off a car and potentially losing control of the car’s power steering and power brakes: Simply shift the car into neutral, which can be done at any speed.
If the engine sticks wide open, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll need a few thousand dollars in car repair. That’s a lot cheaper than dealing with injury or death.