Back to the factory

By Michelle Nosratian

Rachel Katz ’11 was headed to Starbucks when her brakes failed, making her part of the auto recall epidemic affecting thousands of drivers.

“The lovely three-day interim that so cruelly straddles one exam completed and the ensuing barrage yet to come…and I already feel as though I’m behind on the day’s studying that lies ahead,” Katz asked. “So what conclusion does any logical, stress-tormented, sleep-deprived Harvard-Westlake student come to? Head to Starbucks.”

However, what started out as an unremarkable trip to the west side for a “study-caffeination extravaganza” ended with a 2010 Jeep Wrangler crumpling head first into a power line.

Katz was shocked when the steering wheel didn’t respond to her movements. A few seconds later it was clear to Katz that the brake had “seized up too and won’t stop my car which is…coasting towards Ventura.” Katz attempted to move the gear into park only to find that it was stuck in drive. She attempted to enable her emergency brake as a last resort, but it would not budge either.

“A grand total of 50 seconds or so after this ordeal had begun, wheel locked, brake stuck, gear and emergency brake likewise stuck, essentially lacking any control whatsoever over the direction of my car, and unable to stop it as it continued to accelerate towards the boulevard on the slippery, rain-slicked concrete, I made an executive decision: Rachel, take control of the one thing over which you still have it—your body. Jump. And so I did,” she said. “Fortunately, the car door still opened and in one-fell-swoop I was out of my seatbelt and on the pavement. I rolled around just in time to hear that delightful crunch that was my [car] crashing head-on into a power line down my block.”

A Jeep representative said that the 2010 Jeep Wrangler was recalled for a defect in the brake linkage that could cause sudden brake failure. In order to determine which Wranglers are affected, customers should contact Jeep dealerships.

Recently, car companies Chrysler, Honda, Toyota and Lexus have issued recalls for certain models for a myriad of different malfunctions, ranging in hazardousness from inconvenient to life-threatening.

Toyota recalled certain vehicles already on the road and halted production of the affected models.

There are two major issues with certain models of Toyota cars: a sticking accelerator pedal and floor mat entrapment. (The affected models are listed below)

According to a statement on Toyota’s website, the floor mat entrapment recall “regards the potential for an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal and cause it to get stuck in the wide-open position.”

Toyota is also conducting a pedal recall because “there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.”

In the rare case that your pedal sticks, Toyota recommends shifting the transmission gear selector to the neutral position and using the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.

Toyota has taken multiple steps to deal with the faults. For one, they have started sending letters to owners of vehicles involved in the recall to schedule an appointment at their dealership, which have extended their hours and trained a task force of technicians to make the repairs.

The car company has also halted production of affected models in North American plants in order to focus on remedying the problem for cars already on the road.

Seventy-three of the 445 cars parked at the Upper School on Monday, Feb. 8 were Toyotas, although not all of the cars were being recalled. Math teacher Jeffrey Snapp drives a 2010 Toyota Prius, which he learned was recalled on the news. He doesn’t plan to take his car to a dealership until he gets the official notice.

“It is the only car I have so I will continue to drive it,” Snapp said. “This is my fourth Toyota. I have faith in the quality and reputation of Toyota. They will fix their problems. However, it is unfortunate that their dismissive posture on this and other issues has allowed some people to die—but that’s typical corporate reactionary strategy.”

Toyota advises owners of vehicles affected by the floor mat recall to take out their driver’s floor mat until they are contacted by Toyota and asked to bring their car to a dealership.

At the dealership, the shape of the accelerator pedal will be reconfigured, and in certain models, the shape of the floor surface will be altered to increase space between the pedal and the mat.

Toyota will lose an estimated $2 billion this year as a result of this ordeal, CNN reported.

Although the recall of Toyota vehicles principally affects those vehicles made in the United States, Lexus, which is owned by Toyota and has its vehicles assembled in Japan, is having problems with the IS and ES series, Lexus representative Elizabeth Neumen said.

“The different design on the accelerator pedals on those two particular models causes the problem,” she said. “There is not enough space between the mat and the pedal in those particular vehicles.”

Michael Karsh ’10 drives a 2008 Lexus IS 250, but said he’s not too worried about taking his car to the dealership.

“I love Toyota,” he said. “I think they are a great company with great cars.”

Certain components of 2007 and 2008 models of the Honda Fit are being recalled as well, but it depends on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

“There are notices going out in the early part of March once we get the affected VINs sorted out,” said a Honda representative.

“If the driver’s power window master switch, which is the one that controls all the windows, is subjected to rainfall or a beverage spill the liquid can enter the switch and damage the circuit board,” the rep said. “You would have to have your window unrolled and it only occurs in very rare instances when extreme amount of liquid enters the switch and causes a heating issue, which could potentially lead to a fire.”

The rep recommended Fit owners see their local dealer immediately if they are having problems with your windows. Owners can also enter their VIN at www.owners.honda.com to find out if your car is affected by the recall.

Because they use mostly older vehicles, driving schools have remained largely unaffected by the recalls.

“Maybe we just have a good batch, but our vehicles haven’t been recalled at all,” Jessie Raniola of Melrose Driving School said. “We don’t use floor mats anyway.”

Driver’s Ed Direct, another popular driving school among Harvard-Westlake students has also not been affected.

“Our vehicles have not been recalled,” Marlene Galvan of Driver’s Ed Direct said. “The Priuses we use are not affected.”

Katz’s Jeep was affected by the recall of several Chrysler models because of a potential defect in the brake system that could result in brake failure.

On the night following Katz’s accident, Katz’s mother called her downstairs to look at the television.

“On CNN there’s a recall on various Honda and Chrysler vehicles of this year, my Jeep included,” she said.

Katz was contacted by a Jeep engineer who “asked for a detailed oral report regarding my experience in order to help them further identify the problem.”

She is currently using her father’s car as a means of transportation, but hopes that she will soon be back in the driver’s seat of another Jeep, “though selling my parental units on that could be tough.”

 

– Additional reporting by Spencer Gisser and Candice Navi

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