How do I sell a car I know to be dangerous?
February 10, 2014 6:44 AM   Subscribe

My car accelerates on its own. It think it needs to be taken off the road. How can I go about selling it in good faith?

It is very shameful to me that I have allowed this to go on for so long. My car accelerates on its own. It’s a 2009 Toyota Rav 4. It has happened about twenty times in the past year. It happens mostly when I’m decelerating rapidly. Putting the car into neutral has been my way of stopping the acceleration. When the acceleration is happening (and with the brake pressed down) the throttle seems to be fully open and the car lurches and bucks against the brakes. The engine is very loud, racing (270 hp). If left on its own for more than a second or so it becomes a pretty intense scene. Being unprepared for it would be extremely dangerous.

I took the car to a dealership and explained the problem. They ran a full diagnostic and said nothing seemed wrong and told me I probably had my foot on the gas by accident. I am 100% certain this is not the case. On several occasions I have looked. Also, there has not been a floor mat in the car since it happened the first time.

Probably relevant: I got a postcard about a class action lawsuit that had small print and said that if I didn’t opt out of the lawsuit I can’t pursue Toyota legally and I’m sure I didn’t opt out. Chances of finding that postcard are poor.

Also relevant: it might be possible that Toyota will install a feature that will cut engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedal at certain speeds and in certain driving conditions. (Simultaneous application is not what's happening in my car, though.) And I don't want the car fixed; I don't trust it at all anymore.

Also perhaps relevant: I could most likely replicate the problem.

My wife is telling me to sell it. I feel like this car needs to be off the road and not in another driver;s hands. I do not want the problem fixed, I want it out of my life. We owe less than it’s worth and I’d like to get at least what I owe by selling or trading. But the thought of selling this car to a dealership and then having this problem happen to someone else is keeping me up at night. There's no way I'd sell it to a private party.

Can I sell or trade this car in good faith? Any ideas how I could get my money back for this car somehow? Any thoughts at all? Thanks for your time.
posted by release the hardwoods! to Law & Government (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you can trade it in with a clear conscience to a place like Carmax, which will look at the repair history of the car, and do a thorough diagnostic before offering you a (possibly diminished) trade in amount.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:49 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Carmax or sell it back/trade it in at the dealer who insists that it's fine. They'll either fix it or part it out. You've made it clear to them that something is wrong with it.
posted by jquinby at 6:51 AM on February 10, 2014

Also perhaps relevant: I could most likely replicate the problem.

Have you replicated the problem for the dealer? If you can replicate this, I'd imagine Toyota HQ would want to know.
posted by jeffch at 6:52 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you cannot replicate it at the dealership to prove to them that something is wrong or is this a case of your wife just wants this thing gone regardless of whether this is addressed?

If it's the latter then I would be candid about the issue with whomever you sell it to. You will likely get less for it, but then you have it gone and a clear conscience.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:55 AM on February 10, 2014

Dealership insisted it was user error. Any ideas how I might start a dialogue with Toyota HQ about this? Thanks for all your answers.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 7:01 AM on February 10, 2014

Take it to a Toyota dealership and ask them to have a mechanic drive it with you. Have the mechanic drive and tell him what happens and how to replicate it.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 7:04 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dealership insisted it was user error. Any ideas how I might start a dialogue with Toyota HQ about this?

Call the main office (Toyota USA or Toyota Canada or Toyota X depending on where you are).
Have your VIN # and customer # if you bought it from Toyota directly.

Dealerships can be crappy about this kind of thing.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:07 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have never dealt with Toyota, but with many car companies you get a lot more traction if you go straight to the corporate HQ.
posted by radioamy at 7:22 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also you could try another dealership. Print out news articles like this one and this message board for additional "oomph" to the conversation.

Link to lawyers on this case. But just one of many.

I guess it depends on how much you owe, and how much it would take to reclaim that money. If it's $1,000 you could try selling parts on kijiji or sell it to a chop shop. If it's $5,00-$8,000 you may have a harder time recouping that money in which case you could go the lawyer route to at least reclaim the amount owed.

It's difficult since you don't know the cause, but to sleep at night you could take out the pedal & throw sand in the engine, rendering it undriveable but worth it for parts.

Finally, if you do sell at a loss to a chop shop, or junkyard, you can tell yourself that the loss you take is the price of having a clean conscience. Financially it may still hurt but you will feel a lot better about the loss knowing that you did it for the sake of someone else's life.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:24 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

My car accelerates on its own. It think it needs to be taken off the road. How can I go about selling it in good faith?

By fixing it or fully disclosing the fault to the potential buyer. No other way is good faith and frankly anything else would be criminally negligent in my opinion. I wouldn't even sell it to the dealer because they don't believe the fault is there. Really, you need to fix it and then sell it.

They ran a full diagnostic and said nothing seemed wrong and told me I probably had my foot on the gas by accident.

This is what happens in the vast/overwhelming majority of cases. Toyota themselves have said they have never been able to replicate the fault in any of their cars (other than the floor mats) and they took a bath on the recalls and bad press as a result. If YOU can replicate it then I suspect that is extremely useful information to the dealership, but more importantly Toyota. Toyota WANT to know what this is as they haven't found any repeatable issues reliably.

My suggestion, being as you seem to have your wits about you far more than the average car owner (selecting neutral pretty much shows that) is to put some effort into reliably replicating the error. Obviously do this on empty roads. If you can do it consistently (even if it is 1 out of 4 times consistently) go back to the dealer and be honest about it - "Look, I know you think I had both feet in, and that is usually the case with these things, but I am convinced that this is happening and I can replicate the problem. Let me show it to your mechanic or you and I'll show him how to replicate it and maybe it will be diagnosable". Be polite, persuade them that it won't take long and try to get them to just go for a test drive with you. Explain how you replicate it before you go, too.

You have a barrier with the dealer - It is far more likely that most of these 'unintended acceleration' episodes we all hear about are user error than mechanical, especially if the dealer network have been (so far) unable to replicate it. The dealer is approaching it with that understanding. You'll need to get past that by being reasonable, and if it fails, contact Toyota HQ through their press office or something. Don't get on the forums and create a fuss as you'll just get painted as yet another person who can't press the right pedal when they panic.

If it happens only on hard braking, it sounds to me like something is physically moving and jamming the throttle mechanism. That won't show up in any scans they do, which may be part of the issue.

If you get nowhere with the dealer, go to Toyota. Explain to them where you stand - the car has this fault, you can replicate it but no longer feel safe in the car but are terrified of handing it on to another owner. Keep plugging away at Toyota themselves and I think you will get somewhere. The key to that will be saying "I know there is a lot of fuss about this but I can replicate the fault and my dealer wasn't interested/wouldn't let me show them (as relevant)". I suspect they'll sit up and take notice.
posted by Brockles at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

There are two things you can do:

1. Call the Area Manager for Toyota and explain your concerns and problems. If you like your vehicle, and this is the only problem,


Ask for the name and contact information for the area service manager, and call him/her directly. I PROMISE you will get results.

2. If you just want out from under, trading in with a problem shouldn't decrease the value of your vehicle. Find out what the neighborhood of the trade value is in KBB or Edumunds or NADA, and when you go into negotiate, insist on that value. I traded a Mercedes with a blinking Engine light and they gave me $1000 MORE than what I expected.

When you do the paperwork, you can write on it, "Has an exceleration problem, which I am disclosing to purchaser". You may want to call Carfax and let them know too.

That's how I'd do it.

I'd personally GRIND the Toyota dealer on a trade, especially if you like Toyota products, or sell the vehicle to them outright and go to whichever dealer you like. "If you think the car is so perfect, then I want $$$ for it!"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you are absolutely certain that the car is unsafe (though I agree with those that say go back to Toyota until you get answers), sell it for parts or scrap. We had a car with a dangerous fuel leak whose repair cost outweighed the car value, and we junked it for $50 bucks (received) to make sure no one would be endangered by it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:45 AM on February 10, 2014

I feel like this car needs to be off the road and not in another driver;s hands.

To give some context to my answer (and perhaps some moral support to the push and pull in your mind) - I just got out from under my old Jaguar which had a couple of things wrong with it that were potentially dangerous and more than the car was worth to fix. I absolutely could have half arsed fixed it so it was undetectable to most people and sold it privately and it would probably have been fine for a few months.

In the end I sold it to a local Jag specialist explicitly for spares only and made sure they took the car under that understanding. I lost probably $4-4,500 on that deal, so I'm not suggesting something I wouldn't do myself.
posted by Brockles at 7:45 AM on February 10, 2014

An 09 Rav is covered under the recall and will get a modified pedal and floor mats. Some models will also have the computer flashed to disable the throttle when braking. Some models will have the accelerator pedal linkage replaced.

These are recalls, so the dealership basically has to do the work. You might ask for a printout of all the TSBs (technical service bulletins) for you car.

All of that being said, my wife used to own a Rav4. As a bigger guy, I gotta say those pedals are pretty close together. If I was wearing boots, I would get both pedals with one foot all the time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

According to the wikipedia entry on the pedal problems and recalls, there is a known problem with some of the pedals not returning when pressure is let off, and this problem may only show up after wear has occurred. I don't think there is a deadline for this type of recall. If the dealership is unhelpful, go to corporate and be persistent. You should not have to take the financial hit for this.
posted by gimli at 7:50 AM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm fairly certain that a number of years back, the Prius was recalled for this very problem, and I seem to recall that they expanded the recall to include other Toyota models. Try and find out if your RAV4 falls under that recall, and get the recall service done, preferably at a different Toyota dealer than the one you visited. (Car dealers are independently-owned franchisees, so you can get a completely different experience at one dealer versus another dealer for even the same brand of car.)

Looking at the responses above, that might well be the case.

Once you get the recall repair done, you'll have a record of it having been done, and you can then sell the car (if you decide to do so) with a clear conscience.
posted by tckma at 10:29 AM on February 10, 2014

Here's a website set up to give information about the settlement, which may have been what you got in the mail: Toyota Economic Loss Settlement. It looks like the claims deadline has now passed, but if it is a problem that only came up for you after the deadline there may be something built in the settlement for that. Try contacting the 800-number listed on the website.

In any event, even if you have to pay for it, maybe the information from this website will convince the dealership that a repair may be necessary.
posted by ReBoMa at 6:22 PM on February 10, 2014

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