Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Toyota Safety Issue - And My Confusing Exerience with a Prius

I remember driving a rental vehicle about one month ago.  I rented it in Alabama and had to drive it to Florida.  I had the vehicle for about two weeks.  It was a Toyota Prius - and I was quite uncomfortable with it.  The first thing that got me is there was no key.  I left the rental counter with my paperwork and key (at least with what I thought was a key) and headed to the designated parking space.  I unlocked the doors with the unlock button, opened the trunk and stowed my luggage.  Next I needed to start the car.  But there was no key - just this black plastic thing in my hand with three or four buttons (probably lock, unlock, trunk, and alarm).  It was dark, rainy, and I was tired.  So back to the car rental counter I go and I say "I don't have a key".  The kind, understanding, and patient lady explained to me that what I had was a proximity device that would let me start the car when I pressed the "start" button on the car panel.  Okay.  So there goes 15 minutes of my life that I will never get back again. Hmmmmmm.

Back to the car I go.  I press the start (or was it called "Power") button.  I could barely hear the engine start.  That is because it was a "hybrid".  Okay - so this is my first hybrid vehicle - how much can this hurt?

I manage the short two mile drive from the airport to the hotel. How do I put into park?  So I am sitting there in the hotel parking lot with my foot on the brake because I can't find the "Park" position for the itty-bitty shift lever on the dashboard.  The lever has a slot for reverse, drive, and neutral - but no park.  Finally I see a button that is labeled "P" on the dashboard.  Hey, I am adventurous - so I press "P".  It goes into park.  I am feeling quite accomplished at this point.

I could go on and on about the new features of  this Toyota hybrid vehicle that utterly confused me.  For instance you needed to use the video screen for simple functions such as adjusting the heat or the radio.  I remember driving to Florida at night and having the video screen blinding me.  I couldn't figure out how to dim it so I shut it off. Next I wanted to lower the heat because it was too hot.  Well . . .  you need the video screen.  I couldn't figure out how to turn the screen back on again; therefore I couldn't adjust the heat.  So I rolled the windows down and drove like that for a few hours . . . in the middle of February. 

The thing I was most uncomfortable with was the erratic acceleration and braking.  It just didn't seem responsive.  Later I would find out that there were some problems associated with those functions that would require a recall.

The last day of my two week trip I had to attend a 1/2 day long meeting.  I drive to the meeting site, find a parking spot, gather my cell phone, paperwork and other odds and ends and head into the building. The meeting ends two hours before my flight takes off.  At the end of the meeting I return to my car.  I change into my travel clothes - why not be comfortable with five hours of airline travel ahead of me.  As I am changing my clothes in the drivers seat - at the same time I am on the lookout for anyone who would take offense of a naked, old man in the drivers seat of a Pruis - I notice . . . that the LEDs (or whatever they are called) and the video screen are on.  Hmmmm . . . that's odd.  I never did press the "Power" button to start the car.  Then I see this light that indicates that my gas level is very low.  Oh no.  Evidently I did not shut the engine down before heading to my meeting so the car sat there sucking up gas for five hours.  The engine is so quiet at idle it is hard to tell that it is on.  Now I got to get to a gas station quick or I will run out of gas, get stranded on the side of the road, and miss my flight.  It worked out.  I got some gas and made my flight.

I wasn't happy with the Prius - but it isn't because I am technologically challenged.  I wasn't comfortable with the braking and acceleration.  It was later that I heard of the problems associated with Toyotas.  Read more on this in:

http://www.lemonauto.com/complaints/toyota/toyota_prius.htm

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