IN THE past, month I have seen three pictures on social media of crashed Mitsubishi Montero Sport SUVs. In all these photos, the poster blamed the SUV, claiming that it has a sudden acceleration issue. There was one particular Montero that crashed into a car in the rear and then crashed to a building in the front, with the poster claiming that when he engaged reverse, the car suddenly accelerated and he hit a car behind hard, so he put it into drive, then the car accelerated to the building. It seemed that the engine was on full power that no matter how hard he stepped on the brakes, the Montero kept moving forward.
This sudden acceleration issue of the Montero Sport has been going around since 2010, so that in 2011 Mitsubishi Motors Philippines issued a press statement that they have conducted thorough tests on all the electrical systems of the Montero Sport and have found no problems with it.
Mitsubishi further explained that the probable cause of this issue is that the driver must have stepped on the wrong pedal — instead of hitting the brakes, the driver stepped on the accelerator thereby causing an accident.
What bothers me is the sheer number of claims from Montero Sport owners claiming that they crashed due to this sudden acceleration problem. But as a lawyer, I know too well that the huge number of complainants is not evidence enough to conclude that there really is a defect with the Mitsubishi Montero Sport. Likewise, determining whether or not there is some electrical gremlin within the Mitsubishi Montero Sport that can cause this sudden acceleration would be extremely difficult.
I’ve spoken to colleagues in the motoring media and fellow tuners and car technicians regarding this problem and opinions are well divided. There are those who think that the problem does not exist and it is owners/drivers who made a mistake and are trying to escape liability. The others think that Mitsubishi Motors has not done enough to assure the motoring public that this problem does not exist. No one can conclusively say that the problem exists.
On the technical side, modern cars such as the Mitsubishi Montero Sport do not have accelerator cables anymore. Throttles nowadays are drive-by-wire, meaning they are electronically controlled. The accelerator pedal in a modern car is a foot position sensor. It senses how much it is depressed and this signal will be sent to the engine control unit (ECU), which will then send an output signal to the engine and tell it how much power to give.
The foot position sensor is a 0-5 volt sensor. It works like a potentiometer: there is a 5-volt reference input voltage to the pedal, while the output voltage, which goes to the ECU, is between 0-5, depending on how much the accelerator is pressed.
For sudden acceleration to happen, the foot position sensor must give out a voltage signal to the ECU telling the ECU that the accelerator pedal has been pressed even if it has not been pressed. This can happen with a defective foot position sensor, but when there is such a defect, it should not just be a one-shot or one-time deal — the defect should keep on manifesting itself.
Another scenario would be that there is stray electricity that goes to the signal wire of the foot position sensor, thereby telling the ECU that the accelerator was pressed. Electrical gremlins like these should be able to manifest more than once.
I have not seen a sudden acceleration post of the same Montero Sport more than once. Moreover, ECUs have a failsafe system to prevent things like this from happening. In fact, I have experienced an electronic throttle failure with another car brand. What happened was the check engine light lit up and the engine stayed at idle no matter how I pressed on the accelerator pedal. After scanning for the problem with an OBDII engine scanner, the error recorded was “Electronic Throttle System Malfunction.”
The failsafe kicked in and had to have the car towed to the shop. All modern cars have failsafe features programmed in their ECUs.
With the numerous claims of sudden unintended acceleration of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, there are not many cases filed against Mitsubishi Motors Philippines. I know of three and one has already been dismissed. The fact that there are not even 10 percent of those who claim to have been victims of the sudden unintended acceleration has filed a case does not mean that those alleged victims are making false claims. It is just it is a very difficult claim to prove in a court of law, as it would mean that the claimant would need a battery of electrical engineers and software engineers to look for and show the defect. This will cost a whole lot of money.
If there really is a defect with the Montero Sport, there should also have been similar reports from other countries, something that I have not heard of. I did some searching for this problem over the Internet and all the complaints I see are from the Philippines.
Mitsubishi Motors did what it is supposed to do: they conducted an internal investigation and had all the systems of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport checked by engineers in their mother company in Japan. The problem is such a self serving-investigation will never be enough to give the consuming public full confidence on the Mitsubishi Montero Sport.
The appropriate thing to do here is for government to step in and do an investigation on the matter. With the sheer number of complaints and for public safety, the Department of Transportation and Communication should be duty bound to put this matter to rest.