2010 Toyota Corolla CE (Bill Petro)

What Car?

Toyota's troubles: should she switch?

Special to The Globe and Mail

Dear Michael and Jeremy:

I need your help fast because I have to make a decision about my Toyota Corolla. The lease is up on my 2007 and I was going to do what I did last time with my 2004: trade it in on a new one.

The lease rates are great and I have not had one problem with either of them. But with all the talk about jammed accelerators and recalls, I'm wondering if I shouldn't lease something else.

It's been the perfect car for me because I work in the suburbs where bus service is terrible. I drive to work every day and need a car I can count on and won't go out of control. So should I switch?

Mae

Cato: Some of the most senior people at Toyota concede that they and the company as a whole could have better handled the current quality and safety issues that have created something of a panic. I could not agree more.

Vaughan: Sure, but that's a public relations matter. Mae is interested in a new Corolla.

And to that, Mae, I say: There may be reasons to switch, but the panic about jammed accelerators isn't one of them. They're still making Corollas with brakes, aren't they?

Cato: What you're saying is that the brakes in any Toyota Corolla will stop the car even if the accelerator is pinned down to the floor.

Vaughan: Besides, Toyota Canada swears they've only had five cases of a "sticky" accelerator and none have caused accidents.

Cato: Whatever Toyota Canada says, you can be sure some class-action lawyer will soon tell you otherwise.

What those lawyers will not tell you is this: If you have a jammed accelerator, do this: hit the brakes as hard as you can and put it into neutral.

You can also switch off the ignition, but I can imagine that in a panic situation that might be trickier to do - at least for some drivers.

And that's the problem here; if a driver panics, he or she might not do any of those things.

Vaughan: As far as the Corolla is concerned, for the moment Toyota has determined that in some cases there has been wear in the accelerator pedal assembly. If the plastic inside the assembly gets worn, it could get sticky - especially if it gets wet and starts to freeze.

So on the recall, the dealer will install a thin little strip of metal about the size of a postage stamp into the worn part of the assembly.

Cato: But there's more to this, Vaughan.

Today's vehicles like the Corolla have computer-controlled fuel injection - so-called drive-by-wire throttle. This means there's no cable or mechanical linkage between your right foot and the engine.

In a nutshell, the more you put your foot down, the larger the electronic signal the pedal assembly sends to the computer. That computer, known as an ECU or Engine Control Unit, calculates the amount of fuel and ignition timing and a whole bunch of other things to keep the engine running properly.

Vaughan: Right. But what many manufacturers have done for years now is program that ECU with an additional safety measure. That is, if the ECU gets "ON" signals from both the gas pedal and the brake pedal, it believes the brake pedal.

Cato: This is what's commonly referred to as a brake override system.

Vaughan: It's not rocket science; the car maker just tells the computer to do X, not Y - brake, not accelerate. But Toyota issued no such instructions to the computer in their cars that are now being recalled.

Cato: Not yet, at least not in all Toyota's vehicles. Some, but not all.

But years ago, Audi, which is part of the Volkswagen conglomerate, ran into a big "unintended acceleration" scandal in the U.S. media. Audi was eventually proven to have been unfairly attacked in a story on the TV newsmagazine 60 Minutes, but this was just a case of shoddy journalism.

Nevertheless, VW engineers said, alright, let's program the ECU so that this can never happen.

Since that day, brake override has been part of every VW and Audi.



Vaughan: The Corolla isn't the only car that doesn't have this system although they certainly will in the future.

But if you are looking for an alternative, the Nissan Sentra has it and, if that feature really matters to you, then go and test drive the Sentra.

Cato: And because VWs all have brake override, you might want to check out the new Golf. I am suggesting the all-new Golf, not the older City Golf. The new one is just that much better.

Vaughan: Both good alternatives.

Personally, I would say that if you're really happy with your Corolla and with your dealer and with your lease rate, then there's no need to switch over the accelerator issue.

Cato: Remember, the brakes in all Corollas work really well, regardless of what happens with the accelerator or ECU.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2010 Toyota Corolla CE

2010 VW Golf 2.5 Trendline

2010 Nissan Sentra 2.0S

Wheelbase (mm)

2,600

2,578

2,685

Length (mm)

4,540

4,201

4,567

Width (mm)

1,760

1,786

1,791

Track (mm)

1,529 front 1,534 rear

1,541 front 1,514 rear

1,519 front 1,544 rear

Engine

1.8-litre, four- cylinder

2.5-litre, five- cylinder

2.0-litre, four- cylinder

Output (hp) (torque)

132 hp128 lb-ft

170 hp177 lb-ft

140 hp147 lb-ft

Transmission

Five-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Drive system

Front-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive

Curb weight (kg)

1,235

1,376

1,315

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

7.5 city 5.6 highway

10.4 city7.0 highway

8.4 city6.4 highway

Base price

$15,460

$21,175

$18,198

SOURCE: CAR MANUFACTURERS