The brake recall and our Toyota Prius hybrid

Published: 24 February 2010

So, Toyota has added the Prius to its lengthy list of cars to recall, but it’s not – as has so far been the case – an accelerator issue. No, the Prius is being recalled due to a problem with the brakes, so far reported as a momentary loss of braking while driving on rough roads. Sounds like a classic anti-lock braking issue to me, one where the ABS overreacts and severely limits stopping power in moments when grip is low or non-existent: gravel roads, ice or snow or when you’re briefly airborne.
Now, I’m personally of the opinion that the Great Toyota Recall is the new Swine Flu. Joe Bloggs won’t understand the issue properly, get over-anxious and the media – who also won’t understand the issue properly – will whip him into such a frenzy that, for the next few months, he’ll bend his Toyota steering wheel square in fear every time he goes for a drive. Then he’ll forget all about it and get angry about MPs expenses again.

Our experience in the Prius

And, yes, I’m still maintaining that mindset despite the fact I’m running a long-term hybrid Prius and have noticed a problem with the brakes. The most obvious was during the recent wintry spell. The Prius is absolute hopeless in the snow (it got stuck on my parents’ drive and my mum’s BMW 330d – parked on the same drive! – got me around instead) and I ended up locking its brakes three times at very low speed on ungritted car parks and cul-de-sacs. I know you have to be gentle on snow, yet it was only the Prius I locked up out of all the cars we drive here.
More worringly, I’ve also locked the Prius up at high speed. Yes, I know, a typical Prius owner won’t do that, but that’s part of the point of the CAR long-term test: how does a ‘normal’ driver find the hybrid experience?

What happens when you lock up a Prius

The first incident was going fast into a sliproad. I pressed the brakes firmly and they very briefly locked. The weight went over the nose of the car, the back went light and I had to add a bit of corrective lock.

The second involved overtaking several lorries on a long stretch of A-road. As an oncoming car appeared in the distance I backed out of the overtake – not in a panic – but had to quickly shed about 20mph to get back in the slow-moving line. Same thing happened – brief lock, nasty weight transfer, bit of corrective steering required.

Again, out of all the cars I drive this has only happened in the Prius.

I understand what’s going on and I’m adjusting my driving to suit, and I’ll soon drop it in the dealer and then, hopefully, all will be well. Let’s hope so.

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator