19 March, 2013

When Everything is Just So Big

Every once in a while it feels like our life is filled with VERY BIG things, and nothing small at all.

I expect small problems all the time. This world is not set up for people who are outside the norm, and we have disability, precociousness, and we are all way above the average height, just to name a few ways we're different. So I expect that we will have trouble finding a parking place that doesn't endanger anyone, and need to load a wheelchair in and out of a car, adding ten minutes to any "quick trip." I expect that I will need to explain a grown-up concept to my always-curious daughter who understands just enough of something so as to require more information. I assume I will need to scope out a restaurant before we commit to going in., and if we're at home I might need to spend 8 minutes adjusting the chair my son sits in to eat. It seems I regularly need to spend some time in conversation with my daughter covering the topics of equity, fairness, ability, and picking up after yourself. Little things.

But right now, it's all so big. So here's one big thing:

I need to buy a new car. Not "I want to", or we are "thinking about it", I must buy a new car because my always reliable Toyota Sienna minivan had "sudden unintended acceleration" (SUA) a few weeks ago. While I was able to keep the car under control, and did not injure anyone, I can't ever trust that the car will be safe enough for me to carry my babies in it again. What if we had been on Echo Pass? or on the tiny switchback-turny road, Old Priest's Grade? I needed a full left turn lane, about five car lengths, to realize what was happening, get it into neutral** and apply the brakes. Maybe I stopped in four car lengths, but regardless, on a mountain pass you just don't get four car lengths to get your car under control. And what if I hadn't been driving? Jake's aide already told me she wouldn't have known to put it into neutral. If I had not gained control I would have hit the center divide and a light post on the opposite side of the intersection, or God forbid another family in a car.

Toyota cannot duplicate the problem with my car, and they have let me know several times that it was most likely "floor mat entrapment"(meaning that my floormat got caught under the pedal and kept the accelerator depressed). Lord knows I would be thrilled if that had been the problem, because then I would just take out the damn floor mats and continue driving the car that we just spent $4000  to repair (because we, very responsibly, had decided to drive the car for 4-5 more years since we own it, and it still has a perfectly good engine).  But I know it was not the floor mats. I've had that happen to me in another car, and the feeling in the Sienna, when it began to accelerate without me pushing down in the pedal...this was a completely different feeling, a terrifying, out-of-control feeling.  And now that I know what it feels like, I can recall, very specifically it happening two other times. (All three times I was on a flat road, moving from right to left, accelerating by 10-15 miles per hour, with my turn signal on, and the temperature outside was in the mid-seventies. Does that help your engineers Toyota?) One of those other times I called my husband right after it happened, and told him what I thought had occurred. When I was on the freeway, accelerating a little bit more than I wanted to, it was less noticable than on a city street. It calmed down and went about driving normally. Those other times I let it go and called it a fluke.

But here's the thing, after I got the car to stop safely, this last time, I tried to restart the car. In my hyper-alert state of mind, I decided to get the car out of traffic so I would not cause any accidents. Of course that is a crazy idea to drive the car right away, but that's what I was thinking I should do. So I restarted it. Twice. And both times, without my foot on the accelerator, the engine red-lined to about 7000 rpm. Both. Times. That means that the car was still in an "unintended acceleration" state, just not in drive. That's when I got out of the car, took the keys out, and stood outside of what once had been the car I used to shuttle my children, haul groceries, and road trip with every weekend. My car went from being a reliable part of the family to being a 2 ton pile of angry metal, bent on self-destruction, and happy to take me on a ride with it.

And so, I will not go into all of the detail of how poorly Toyota has communicated with us, how not-helpful they were, how I had to actually pay for the rental car I used while my car sat around their lot waiting for a Toyota exec to come out and look at the "customer-stated issue" Since they couldn't duplicate the problem in all of the 11 miles they drove the car, they have declared my car as having "no issues." Which is fine for them, but completely not fine for me, or my family.

So I'm not just thinking about buying a car, I need to get a different car, right now because we still have all of those things to do that we always need to do, like get to school, and to the store, and to the doctor's office.. And now I need to figure out all of the things we need to consider in a new car, and buy one on a compressed time schedule. We chose that Toyota on purpose, because it fit Jake's wheelchair across the back, has all wheel drive, has a low threshold to get in, enough leg room for our leggy family, room for seven passengers, a roof rack, and sliding side doors that slid at the press of a button.

Guess how many other cars have those features? None. No other car in the US market has those features. Toyota makes that car. It's the Sienna, and had they handled the situation differently, I might feel like they cared about my family. If they said, "Let us take that car right now for full blue-book, here is a new one with zero-percent financing, and we have no known issues at all with the new Siennas." You know,  I probably would have considered it as my first choice. I had enough confidence in that company that I would have considered a newer Toyota right then if someone had just pretended that my family mattered.

My first ride, as an infant, was a Toyota Corona which was so new to America that I hear it had bad translations on some of the buttons in the car. I took my driver's ed course using my Toyota Corolla LE, and that little blue car took my Momster to graduate school, and my sister through her first years of driving. I've owned an FJ-60 and a newer LandCruiser. Basically I've been driving Toyotas for twenty-five years, and because I am just that nostalgic, I am sad. But mostly I am so angry with Toyota Motor Corp for not recognizing what their neglect has done to ruin their brand in my mind. I really wanted someone to care, a little, about the person who has held title on four of their cars over the course of more than half my life.

What kind of company takes a week to check on your possessed car, then makes you pay for the car rental? What kind of company says "nothing is wrong" with my car, then calls a couple of weeks later and offers to buy our floormats so their "engineers can work with them." (Even though I have explained clearly that their was no floor mat entrapment.)

So now buying a car is more than just a "whoo hoo I have a great life and I get a new car!" It's all wrapped up in me feeling safe again, and ensuring that my kid with disabilities can be comfortable in the car, and figuring it all out quickly. Changing brands after this many years is harder than I thought it would be, but I think we have decided on....a Ford Flex. In fact, it may look a lot like the one below.

Ford has been awesome on Twitter answering questions, offering to set up test drives searching for cars. It's not an expense we planned on, but if everything works out it will be a great thing for our family.

So long Toyota.

 **In an SUA situation, in newer cars, pressing your engine on/off button may work but you will probably lose power steering and brake assist, making the car difficult to handle. In older cars, turning the ignition off at the key has the potential to lock the steering, and is not generally recommended. I stomped my foot on the brake to the floor, put it in neutral and continued to slow the car. The car made a very terrible sound engine against breaks, and worse in neutral and park with the engine roaring at redline. Here is an Edmunds. com video that discusses what to do in the case of a stuck open throttle.
People who drive a stick would probably naturally put in the clutch and put the car in neutral.  I am very thankful that I knew what to do, and I specifically want to thank my Dad, Jack T., and Jennifer and Greg for insisting that I learn how to drive a manual transmission car. I know I was a terrible student, but obviously you were very good teachers.

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