Toyota Prius problems put spotlight on car electronics

NEW YORK (AP) — Your most expensive piece of electronics probably is not your flat-panel TV or your computer. More likely, it's your car, which can pack 50 microprocessors to control everything from the fuel mix to the rearview mirrors.

The recalls and other technical problems besetting Toyota in the last few weeks highlight the risks of relying on electronics instead of the mechanical rods and cables that controlled vehicles for most of the 20th century.

Such advancements bring many benefits, but the worry is that the car is a computer on wheels that could freeze up and potentially crash. No less a computer celebrity than Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak has said his Toyota Prius sometimes accelerates on its own.

For many years, a car's gas and brake pedals were connected directly to the throttle and the brake assembly. Now computers and electronic sensors govern many of those functions, as well as a vehicle's exhaust system, its inside temperature and a host of other operations.

Those design changes were reviewed this week when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began looking into 124 reports from consumers that their Toyota Priuses momentarily lost braking ability while traveling over uneven roads, potholes or bumps. Four of the reports involve crashes.

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