1996 Toyota Camry Defect Design Revealed in U.S. Federal Court Today 1-14-15

Court events from January 14, 2015 Toyota Lawsuit

Two wonderful things to post about. 1) The design defect in some ’96 Camry throttle body units (accelerator control system) was proven in court today. The accelerator control system (ACS) on the 1996 Camry has two pulleys in it that control the accelerator cable (which is attached to the gas pedal). Well in Koua Fong Lee’s ’96 Camry (and some other ’96 Camrys) those two pulleys are made of plastic. The side of the upper plastic pulley butts up against a metal bracket and that metal bracket sits just inches from the engine. When that throttle body and metal plate heat up, the upper plastic pulley can bind up and won’t release the accelerator cable.  It gets stuck to the metal bracket (at times).

When Koua’s lawyer asked the expert (John Stilson) what he used to heat up the throttle body, John said he used a hair dryer. Many in the courtroom were surprised. Koua’s lawyer asked Mr. Stilson why he used a hair dryer and Mr. Stilson said, “because that’s what is listed in the 1996 Toyota Camry Service Manual to test for malfunction due to heat”. It took Mr. Stilson only 30 mins to heat the throttle body to 165 deg F and he conducted five tests (four shown on video in court) to record how that heat affected the upper plastic pulley and caused it bind up and stick to the metal bracket. It took between 5 and 7 minutes for the upper pulley to cool down and release the accelerator cable.

John Stilson designed a different accelerator system completely eliminating the need for a throttle body, to show how easy it is to design the accelerator/throttle system which won’t cause the accelerator cable to stick.

The other wonderful testimony today was by Andrew Irwin who specializes in reconstruction of accidents. Since the accident in June, 2006, Toyota and other experts have claimed that Koua’s brakes were in good working condition. But today Koua’s lawyer asked Andrew if he did any tests to check the brake vacuum assist system in Koua’s car. With no vacuum pressure in brakes, you have what’s called “hard brakes”. When the inspectors checked Koua’s vacuum assist system, they noted there was no vacuum pressure in the system. Mr. Irwin said one of the inspectors/experts pumped in 25 inches of vacuum pressure into Koua’s brake vacuum assist system and it filled the system. After stepping on the brake pedal one time, they lost 40% of the vacuum pressure. After releasing the brake and stepping on the brake one more time, they lost all vacuum pressure in Koua’s brakes. This explains why Koua had lost his brakes after stepping on them twice when he swerved between the first two cars he came upon on the exit ramp – that’s when he lost all vacuum pressure in his brakes. By the time he came upon the Oldsmobile stopped at the red light ahead, there was no vacuum pressure left in his brake system. Keep in mind he had only 550 feet (5.1 seconds) to react when he realized his brakes were not working properly.

Never once since Koua’s accident in 2006 has Toyota been able to prove that Koua did NOT step on the brakes. Put aside trying to prove that he DID step on the brakes. They can not prove that he didn’t. If they could prove that, they would have by now. There’s no way Koua’s brake vacuum assist system would have been depleted of vacuum pressure if he had not stepped on his brakes.

9 Comments

  1. I came across this in an attempt to better understand the plaintiffs case. I was not in court, so all I can go off is what I’ve read here. In regards to that, however, and also realizing I may misunderstand what you’ve written, I must say it appears the section on the vacuum system is a bit misleading. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover the vacuum purged from the booster after the accident, for many reasons. Keep in mind how the vacuum assist works; the vacuum is provided via the negative manifold pressure in the engine; this negative pressure is inversely-proportional to throttle position (i.e. more throttle = less vacuum, highest vacuum at idle) So in the accident illustrated, whether or not the throttle was being depressed (accidentally, or otherwise) or was stuck largely open (accelerating), depressing the brake pedal would very naturally deplete the vacuum. However, the full power of the brakes is still present, it just takes more force from the operator to engage them. Also, with the possible exception of race and super-cars, most any road-vehicles’ brakes are more than powerful enough to stop the wheels even under full throttle (and without vacuum assist). Next, it’s entirely possible to press BOTH the brake and gas pedal simultaneously. While it would seem this is still a terrible accident, for whatever reason, I am (so far) unconvinced that the liability in this case is Toyota’s. But I will continue to research. Thanks for this forum and information.

    • While you bring up some good points, I heard many other drivers of ’96 Camrys testify not only in this trial but also at Koua Fong Lee’s Evidentiary Hearing in 2010 that resulted in his freedom and full exoneration. Several of those drivers had both feet on the brakes, one who’s Camry sped up to 120 mph and even with both feet on the brakes and his bottom lifted off the car seat, he could only get it to slow down to 95 mph. Some of these Camrys even started on fire from how hard and how long these people were pushing on the brakes, yet the brakes would still not stop their car. So it’s not that there were no brakes at all, they just weren’t enough to stop the car. I do appreciate your comment and for visiting the site.

    • Thank you for writing. You bring up a good point. I heard most of the experts say during this trial that you can’t build up vacuum pressure with a stuck open throttle, but yes, you will have “some” brakes; however, Koua’s car had anti-lock brakes and when those kick in the driver has even less control on how his brakes are reacting, true?

      The other witnesses who testified experienced the same braking situation as Koua did. Koua’s lawyer was not claiming that the brakes were defective, he is claiming that the brakes available to him (in his 6 seconds that he had) was not enough to stop the car. Of the 3 others who testified who also experienced this, one is a pilot who flies a blackhawk, one is a retired VP of Province College and one is a retired psychologist. One of the latter two was a pilot for 19 yrs as well. Very experienced drivers, two of these 3 had both feet on the brake pedal and could not stop their ’96 Camry.

      • Sorry, just got back to this. I am aware of the outcome of the recent trial, so I guess the jury agreed to some of the arguments. I admit I am somewhat swayed – You would tend to think a trained pilot would not tend to panic. And in a short-duration event like Mr. Vang’s I suppose poorly maintained brakes may not work as expected, but in a longer event duration (i.e. the cars brakes starting on fire…) I would expect the driver to turn the cars ignition off. Or apply the parking brake (if it works, it’s on the rear axle). I was also having a very hard time determining whether the car in the accident had an I4 or V6 engine and how much of the testimony was specific to either engine. It’s a fascinating subject, and I’m still not SURE we have the answers. Keep probing. Thanks.

        • Thank you for your comments. It’s very risky to turn off the engine because you lose power steering and air bags won’t deploy. Koua had only 6 seconds to react and first had to swerve between 2 other cars and that’s when he lost all vacuum pressure in his brakes. With the throttle stuck open, the vacuum assist was unable to build up any more vacuum pressure. There is a hearing on April 22nd on this case.

        • Thank you for your response, all drivers who testified (or signed affidavit) were drivers of the V6. Koua had only owned his ’96 Camry for 4 months so there really wasn’t much time for him to neglect anything yet.

    • Thank you for responding. All drivers who testified experienced the same loss of brakes and depleted vaccum assist as Koua did. Many of them were stepping on their brakes with 2 feet as hard as they could and none of them had much success in slowing down their vehicle. One man could only get it to slow down to 90 mph. Craziness if you ask me. Go to forensicfacts.com to read more about it. The page is owned by a forensic engineer.

  2. We are thankful it happened before he got on the expressway and that there was no crash involved, no injuries.  But, despite many other 1996 Toyota Camrys which have experienced similar problems, there are apparently no recalls listed prior to 1999 for that model with that problem.

    • He was exiting the express way when this happened and 3 people died as a result of this accident. An innocent spent years in prison due to this accident. Just because there wasn’t a recall doesn’t mean there shouldn’t have been a recall. The defect has already been proven in court. I was present for the trial. My website gives all the details. Toyota hid over 50,000 complaints for unintended acceleration by filing them under a “floor mat” issue. That’s why NHTSA didn’t think a recall needed to be done at the time. Toyota was fined $1.2 billion dollars for covering up known issues that cause sudden unintended acceleration.

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