Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A tale of a Lexus and sudden, unintended lack of acceleration

dash lightsImage by Tony Kingdad via Flickr

Let me start my saying: "I AM OK!" :)

I was on my way home from work this afternoon, in my Lexus (1994 LS400), heading north on I-65 toward I-165, when it happened: the check engine light came on and I was suddenly thrust into a frightful situation: sudden, unintended lack of acceleration. Try as I might, regardless of how hard I pressed the accelerator, my car just would not accelerate. There was a slight, ever-so-hesitant increasing velocity (it could scarcely be called acceleration). The car would maintain interstate speed, but took a long, long time to achieve it. Fortunately, for me, I-65 in Mobile, despite its 65 mph speed limit, typically maintains a good, steady 27 mph pace (ok, that's slight exaggeration, but not much), but I was in a panic. What was I to do? I kept pressing the accelerator, harder and harder, but it just would not go any faster. I hit the brakes to let in a car from an on ramp, and that car quickly sped away as I struggled to get my Lexus back up to cruising speed. In a vain attempt, I rolled down the window, put out my head, looked back, and blew as hard as I could, but that did not help to accelerate the car.

I made the transition to the I-165 ramp and held my speed through the turn (fortunately it was not crowded with the usual traffic slowing to 14 mph around the 45 mph curve that I routinely take at, well, let's just say "more than 45"), so I was able to maintain my speed through the curve. I merged onto I-165 - well, I say "merged," but really it was more like staying in my lane since that's exactly what I did, as the lane that comes off I-65 is the same lane I need to be in to take the exit off I-165 to Bay Bridge Road. I managed to maintain my speed throughout this ordeal thus far, but this was just the beginning. At the bottom of the off ramp of I-165 is a stoplight, and numerous other stoplights dot the roadway between my exit off I-165 (which, actually, I don't own, despite calling it "my" exit) and home. With the car not wanting to accelerate, these stoplights could be deadly if the car behind me became impatient when the light turned green.

London Bridge (Tower Bridge) : Reflection on t...Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr

Fortunately, an 18-wheeler was in front of me, thus justifying the unintended lack of acceleration from the Lexus. (Yes, I'd tried putting the car in neutral, turning it off, then turning it back on, but this did not cure the unintended lack of acceleration problem.) Actually, it may have been more than an 18-wheeler, as it was a double-trailer truck, but in the heat of the moment, under such duress as I was, I do not recall whether each smaller trailer had four or eight wheels (i.e., one or two axles). The next challenge was the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge (which does not look like this picture, but Zemanta won't give me a pic of that bridge even though there's a nice one at the Wiki article linked here), which has a fairly steep incline. Would the ailing Lexus and its unintended lack of acceleration be capable of climbing the menacing roadway? Fortune continued to smile, and we (the Lexus and I) made it up the bridge. (Down the other side was easy; gravity assisted there. And, once again, I tried the neutral-turn-off-and-restart procedure; once again it failed.) The 18(?)-wheeler continued to occupy the roadway in front of me and I continued to play the part of a person afraid to go around, instead accelerating extremely slowly, at the rate of an 18(?)-wheeler.

The multi-trailer semi stayed in front of me as I headed toward Spanish Fort on the Causeway (US 90/98), which fortunately is rather devoid of traffic lights. But again a decision had to be made in the midst of the strife of unintended lack of acceleration: once reaching Spanish Fort, there would be lights aplenty, along with (likely) cars stopping to turn left across traffic. All instances where unintended lack of acceleration could be a great bad thing. On the other hand, I could take I-10 into Spanish Fort and on toward the Malbis exit (and home), thus avoiding the lights, but presenting another challenge: the uprising on ramp and needing to attain interstate speed along the uphill slope. I watched the traffic on I-10, and it seemed there might be a good "merging spot" about the time I would expect to hit the interstate; I decided to try. The 18(?)-wheeler, though, decided to pull off the causeway not long before the onramp to I-10, and slowed in anticipation of his stop. Decision time: try to go around? or wait till he passes?

I decided to wait. Once he pulled off, I nailed the accelerator to the floor (not literally; I do have a lot of tools in the Lexus, from the recent door handle replacement, but nails and a hammer or nail gun are not among them), and waited as the car continued to fail to accelerate. Slowly, ever so slowly, the speedometer needle began to rise; fortunately there was no car in front of me as I reached the on ramp, so I was able to maintain my speed, such as it was, through the turn onto the on ramp, instead of slowing as most vehicles do. I had nearly attained 60 mph when I reached the top of the on-ramp, which I have now spelled three different ways in this discourse, and the anticipated break in traffic was marred only by one vehicle which, politely, moved to the other lane to let me in.

So far, so good. I tried the neutral-off-restart again (and noticed the car DIED when I put it in neutral), no change in the unintended lack of acceleration issue. No matter, I am now able to maintain nearly the speed limit, although the car now will not actually reach interstate speed (and, when I put it in neutral, it either dies or idles around 100-200 rpm). As I head into Spanish Fort, I consider the options and decide that I will take the Malbis exit (as planned), take the first right into the Sam's/Car Dealer/Gas Station/Lowe's/Food Places shopping-like area, park the car at Sam's, and see what can be done. Unfortunately, as I head toward the Malbis exit, I see that the off-ramp green light is turning yellow, meaning that I will not have a green when I arrive (fortunately, there will also be no traffic in front of me). As I remove my foot-nail from the accelerator, allowing the car to return to "idle-cruise" - it dies. It will not even stay running when in "D" at 40 mph.

This is a problem, as when the motor stops, so does the power steering. Now, I have had cars without power steering before (e.g., my 1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan), but a car that is supposed to have power steering, when it doesn't, is a real beast to steer, and although I like steak, I don't like this situation. Fortunately, my manliness pays off and I am able to overcome the lack of power steering and avoid running into the cars that are trying to merge into the lane that I am not going to yield because I don't want to try to get this Lexus moving from a stop. I put the car into neutral, start, dies. Start, dies. Start, gas, keep the revs up, shift into drive, turn into the shopping area, foot off the gas, car dies, power steering is gone, car jerks, but I maintain a firm grip on the wheel and using my manliness keep the car in its lane. Neutral, start dies, start, rev, keep the revs up, drive, brake and gas simultaneously to keep the car from dying even though I'm slowing, no traffic, go.

Pull into a parking spot, gas and brake, off the gas, dies. Won't start - just spins the engine. Gas it while cranking and it will start, but won't stay running unless I keep the gas applied. Funny sounds, buzzy exhaust, lots of black smoke. Just for fun I pulled the mass airflow sensor plug and try to start it, but that accomplishes nothing.

Call my wife, she picks me up, and here I sit, lucky, fortunate not to have been in an accident from my Lexus unintended lack of acceleration problem, writing this, as the car waits on me to go see if it will run later tonight to bring it home.
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