Final Inspection

On Stopping a Prius – and Maybe Some of the Panic

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Amid all the frenzy surrounding the growing spate of Toyota recalls, comes the voice of calm – from a victim no less of the ʼ10 model Prius and its controversial brake system.

That voice? Our own Christie Schweinsberg, who covers the Asian auto makers for Ward’s and earlier this week had her own Toyota moment behind the wheel of a ʼ10 model Prius.

She experienced “it” – that dreaded lurching/loss of braking power that has inspired more than 13,000 articles (according to a recent Google News search) and led to a recall of nearly 148,000 of the hybrids in the U.S. this week (including Lexus HS 250h models) – during a lunch-time run in a Prius on loan to Ward’s from Toyota’s press fleet.

Christie swears she wasn’t trying to duplicate the problem as she approached an intersection near our Southfield, MI, office and began to brake as the traffic light turned red. But thanks to the freeze thaw/cycle of Michigan's winters, the pavement had lifted a bit, creating a speed-bump of sorts that caused the car to lurch forward.

Toyota says the Prius’ antilock brakes engage and disengage rapidly as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage, and drivers may experience an inconsistent brake feel under some conditions.

Prius owner and Apple Inc. cofounder Steve Wozniak reportedly called it “very scary” at a recent confab in San Francisco.

“Really, it was more of a lurch-ette,” Christie says of how the Prius reacted on her drive. What flashed through her mind wasn’t terror but, "Seriously, this is what people are getting riled about?”

Of course, not everyone who experiences the Prius defect in action will – or should be expected to – react as calmly as Christie, who describes the situation as “easily controllable,” if you’ve got your mind on your driving and your hands on the wheel.

Her advice to those embroiled in the unmitigated panic? “Get a grip.”

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

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James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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