Runaway car can be stopped -if you practice

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: December 8, 2010 - 11:29 PM

QI drive a 2009 Toyota and have a fear of a runaway vehicle. The dealer has test-driven the vehicle and told me it's OK. What advice do you have?

ACheck with the dealer to see if your vehicle has been covered in any recalls or technical service bulletins. More importantly -- and this applies to every car owner and motorist -- please remember that a motor vehicle cannot "run away" or continue to accelerate unintentionally if you simply shift into neutral or turn off the ignition key. Every driver, regardless of what vehicle they drive, should practice these simple procedures so that their response will be automatic.

Modern motor vehicles will not "over-rev" in neutral with the throttle open. The engine limiter will hold the engine at about 4000 rpm by cycling fuel delivery on and off. So shifting into neutral will disengage the vehicle's drive and acceleration while maintaining the power steering and power brakes.

But even turning off the ignition while driving will not disable the steering or brakes. You will lose power assist to these systems, meaning you'll need to apply more physical effort to steer/stop the vehicle, but the steering and brakes will continue to operate and allow you to control the vehicle.

And finally, please remember that you cannot turn the key to the "lock" position unless the transmission shift lever is in Park -- so you cannot unintentionally lock the steering by turning the ignition off.

Identify and practice these simple procedures to prepare yourself -- just in case.

QI own a '99 Olds Eighty-Eight with 62,000 miles on it that I bought new. The last time I had it inspected, the mechanic indicated that the brake lines are rusty and I should think about replacing them. What are your thoughts?

AOf all the things that could possibly fail on an automobile and put the occupants at risk, this may well be the single most overlooked potential failure. The steel hydraulic brake lines typically run underneath the vehicle, where they are exposed to road debris, salt and sand. Just like the chassis and body of the vehicle, they can rust when exposed to these elements in harsh climates.

Interestingly, steel brake lines may be as vulnerable to corrosion from the inside due to moisture absorbed into the hydraulic brake fluid. This is why many car makers, mechanics and enthusiasts -- including me -- suggest changing brake fluid every couple of years by bleeding the brake system to fully exchange the fluid with fresh, uncontaminated brake fluid.

If you've never had the brake fluid changed, or the mechanic can visually show you brake lines with textured, scaly or flaky corrosion, by all means have them replaced. No question the cost of replacement will be far less than the cost and consequences of brake failure while driving.

QI have a 2003 Toyota Camry with 89,463 miles on it. The auto shop tells me I need to replace the timing belt at 90,000 miles. Is this true? Is there any way I would know whether it is really needed? I am on a fixed income, and this is very expensive.

AYou didn't identify which engine is in your Camry. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine uses a timing chain that does not need periodic replacement. The 3-liter V6 engine does use belt-driven camshafts, and Toyota recommends replacement of the belt at 90,000 miles or 72 months. Although this is not an interference engine and would not be damaged by timing-belt failure, you'll know precisely when it fails because the engine will stop dead in its tracks.

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