Smart Cars for Absent-Minded Owners

Dear Car Talk:

I am a dinosaur when it comes to new technology.

I parked my wife's new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid in our garage. Not hearing the engine, I went in the house. But the ignition was still on. Fortunately, my wife needed the car 15 minutes later, and there were no fumes in the garage.

Would the electric motor have just died if she had not used the car so soon after I left it on? -- Xavier

No. This is a pretty common problem, Xavier. We've done that ourselves at the garage.

We'll have a hybrid in for an oil change, and one of the mechanics will put it up on the lift and drain out the oil. Then, all of a sudden, the engine will start up.

Usually, the guy's eyeballs will pop out of his head, like in an old Saturday-morning cartoon. Then, he'll climb up the lift like a guy who's escaping from prison, in order to shut off the ignition.

Fortunately, in your case, Xavier, the car would have turned itself off. If a Toyota hybrid is stopped and the transmission is in park, the car will shut itself off after about an hour -- figuring another numbskull did what you did, Xavier. It's also smart enough to know that if someone taps the brake, there's a human in the car, so it'll reset the timer.

Now, depending on the condition of the battery (whether it needs charging), the powertrain management software may turn on the gasoline engine from time to time to charge the battery.

So, if your garage is attached to your house, keep in mind that it may produce some exhaust fumes. But given the number of minutes it'll be running, and that cars these days produce so little carbon monoxide from their tailpipes now, I don't think you'd be in any danger.

Fortunately, Toyota had you (and me) in mind when they created this feature, Xavier.


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