Sunday, December 30, 2007

Prius broken Multi-Function-Display update

I have not yet heard from Toyota of Berkeley's owner, Tim Southwick. I wrote the letter in May of 2007 and it has been over seven months (see letter in a previous post). So I have contacted the Toyota Customer Experience hot line (800-331-4331) and had several conversations with a woman named Robin. She has been very courteous and diligent about getting back to me. After about five calls, including calls she made to the national and regional offices of Toyota, she informed me of the bad news. This I find hard to believe, and you may also. Toyota is not going to give me a break on the MFD replacement. Well, actually, they claim that the $850 or so they want to replace it IS a break already, and that a new unit is over $3,000. This is a factory refurb unit they want to sell me. I insisted that I had read on the Priuschat site that people had gotten much better deals, even no charge or $200 or so, and Robin confirmed this. However, she said the customer cited in that post had purchased five Toyotas from that dealer so they were doing the loyal customer a big favor. I said that this is ridiculous. The MFD is known to be bad in the 2004 Prius model year and they often fail. (Toyota technical service bulletin TSB #EL002-05 details this issue.) She said there were nothing they can do for me. I have to say that I'm very disappointed in Toyota, and in Toyota of Berkeley particularly. I asked Robin to have someone from Toyota of Berkeley at least phone me to tell me the news and respond to my letter. But so far there has been no call. It's been a few weeks now. I have no intention of paying $850 to have Toyota repair a piece of equipment that has a known defect, and that there is even a technical service bulletin for. Toyota should replace these free of charge when they come in broken in the way that is the known and expected failure mode, in my opinion! This does not speak well of the Prius, nor of Toyota USA.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Memory foam update

I have definitely determined with the help of my BioSET allergist that I am allergic to the memory foam mattress I paid $1500 for from Foam Creations in Albany, California. This mattress is 6" of natural latex (NaturaLux from, and 3" of memory foam from
Foamex ( What I bought is called "300-10." I have written to both companies to ask if they use PBDEs.

FYI, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDE, are a flame retardant. For years, manufacturers have used chemical additives to reduce the flammability of everyday items, from computer casings to carpet pads to foam cushions in chairs and couches. Some of the more widely used of these additives are polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. In lab tests with rodents, some PBDEs have been linked to problems in brain development and thyroid hormones. Most of these problems stem from pre-natal exposure and exposure soon after birth. The health effects appear to be permanent. PBDE levels in humans are about 10 to 100 times higher in the U.S., the world’s largest producer and consumer of PBDEs, than in Europe. Scientists say North American levels appear to be rising at an exponential rate, doubling every two to five years, while countries that have banned their use have seen levels decrease. U.S. levels of PBDEs are rising. Studies have found them in human blood, fat and breast milk. Breast-feeding appears to overcome some of the effects of harmful chemicals and remains the healthiest way to feed babies.

I went to the store once again to complain about the smell in the mattress that would not go away (I have waited six months) and was told by the owner that over the years he's been selling foam (which is quite a few) that state regulations have slowly mandated that all mattresses be treated with flame retardants. In days of olde, he said, you had a choice of "F" grade (flame retardant) or not. All I know is that I feel very bad when I wake up in the morning, and the smell is pervading the whole bedroom, even though I have been opening the doors and windows all day long for the last six months. I suspect that the latex mattress does not have PBDE or other flame retardant, because it is less flammable and claims to be all natural. Since there is, unfortunately, no return policy on the mattresses from Foam Creations, I will be removing the upper 3" of memory foam to see how that improves things. I will post the replies to my emails to the manufacturers if and when I receive them.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Costco memory foam mattress

Well, I took back the Costco 12" memory foam mattress. It just would not stop smelling. Gotta love Costco, though. They gave me back my $700 no questions asked, nearly 9 months after the purchase.

I went to Foam Creations on Solano Ave in Albany, CA and bought a $1500 combo of 6" of latext foam and 3" of memory foam they say does not offgas. Well, I am allergic to that, it seems, and have ended up sleeping on the couch to get a good night's sleep. I was told by the Foam Creations people that a) they do not allow returns, and b) they have eight customers who have returned Costco mattresses due to smell and are very happy now with Foam Creations mattresses. I went into the store to discuss this after waiting a couple of months for the foam to offgas. The owner promised me it will really finally stop smelling (now he is admitting there is a smell in their products) but that it should not take too long. I have explained to him that I have an immunodefieciency and cannot be exposed to toxics for a whole night and do well with that, so I am surprised he sold me the combination latex and visco-elastic foam. My understanding is that latex is natural rubber and has no offgassing whatsoever. But the memory foam does have some. He had explained that Costco has its foam manufactured in China and Sleep Inovations who imports the mattresses for Costco were not overseeing the curing properly and so the product smells. He explained that his products, however, are made in California and comply with higher standards and therefore do not smell. Well, this has turned out not to be true. I wake up stuffy and feeling quite poorly when on that mattress. I have left the windows and doors open all night to help keep air moving and fresh, but especially if I sleep on my face, I seem to have an increased allergic reaction and am also annoyed by the smell.

I am conducting various tests to see what I can change, such as sleep location, trying an air purifier, etc. In the meantime I am stuck with a non-returnable Cal king size $1500 mattress that smells at least as much as the $700 Costco mattress and frankly is not as comfortable.

Prius update

Well, four months later.... I have heard nothing from Toyota of Berkeley. I am going to phone the Toyota Customer Experience line next. I have contacted Channel 4 KPIX TV in the Oakland area about this, and corresponded with the consumer advice people. They claim to have contacted a different Toyota dealership and been told about the "goodwill" situation (that if folks are not bringing in their cars for regular service at the expensive dealership shop they do not get treated very well in gray area situations like this) and that the MFD is out of warranty and that therefore I should have to pay full price for repair. I find the inconsistency over this particular failure and repair to be annoying and to not speak well of Toyota. I believe they should simply issue a recall or a blanket policy to replace malfunctioning multi-display units. If anyone has specific phone numbers and even names of contacts to call about this, I would appreciate it if you were to email me.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Prius update: Broken computer

Bad news about my Prius. The multi-function-display, the touch screen in the middle of the dashboard that has all the goodies on it such as the navigation system has failed, and the dealer has just told me that it will not be replaced, even though many Prius owners have reported this failure. Here is my letter to the local Toyota dealership, explaining my chagrin over the lack of coverage. The failure occured shortly after the 36,000 mile warranty expired. A new unit if $4000. A refurb unit is $825+tax.


RE: My 2004 Prius MFD failure

ATTN: Tim Southwick Jr., Toyota of Berkeley, CA

Dear Mr Southwick,

In August of 2003, I reserved and paid in advance for a new 2004 Prius that I have been very happy with, for the most part. I was an early adopter of a new technology, buying even before the car was available. I took possession in October, 2004. Having previously driven a Honda EV+, I was all in favor of electrics and hybrids. I am an author of over 40 books about computers and technology, and have written over 100 magazine articles about high technology, and have promoted the Prius actively since happily purchasing it from Marty Zeitman at your dealership. I have sent numerous people to your dealership to look at Priuses, and probably am responsible for a few of your sales. I myself purchased the full package #6 with all the bells and whistles. It hasn’t been perfect, with the navigation system sometimes leading me astray, for example, but that is to be expected.

At about 35K miles, the multi-display unit began to malfunction. No navgation, no radio, energy system not showing battery level, etc. I’m sure you are aware of this issue. I thought it was a glitch and would clear up, as the car is basically a computer on wheels, and we all know that computers lose their minds sometimes. Since I write books about computers, I know all about that! I just waited and hoped the problem would clear up, but it did not. I Googled about, read the Prius forums, and found that lo and behold I was not the only person with this problem! In fact, it's happening on 2004 Highlanders and Land Cruisers with the navigation system, and on 2004 Prius with or without the navigation system. I even hear there a TSB #EL002-05 which identifies this problem, which means Toyota is aware of this issue, so most likely it is an inherent design flaw meaning it was there from the beginning, including before the 36,000 mile mark was passed. In any case, the owner’s manual clearly describes the MFD as being part of the hybrid system, so it shouldn't even be an issue. This failure should be covered up to 100,000 miles!

After realizing this was not going to clear up, I was about 5K miles past the warranty. I brought my Prius into your dealership today for reprogramming (since I received a TSB recall, called SSC 50P), and had it all checked out. Repair team captain Ray Prasad told me that it was indeed defective and I would not be covered, and I could have a refurb unit installed for $800 or so, plus tax. I was not happy about this, and so I then had a long conversation with Dave, your shop manager, who explained that because I had not come in for regular service at your dealership, I was not favorably looked upon for an out of-warranty repair of the MFD. I said I did not understand this policy, since I had already given the dealership quite a large sum to purchase the car. He explained that this was essentially irrelevant. He said that good will was dependent upon bringing a car into the dealership for service. (Apparently the good will of brining you $28,000 has very short legs.) Oddly enough, he then went on to explain that actually the dealership lost money doing oil changes because of the labor costs. I explained that I was getting my oil changes for $15 when I supply the Mobil 1 5W-30 that I like to put in my cars, and that even includes a filter, so we were both better off if I got my oil changes elsewhere. I also said that last time I asked for a tire rotation, his shop refused to do it because there was not enough tread on the tires. At that time, I felt pretty rudely treated by Ray, who grilled me about where I was getting my service done, which is another reason I had not returned for regular service, by the way.

I feel I came to Toyota of Berkeley in 2003 in good faith, and paid MSRP for a car I had never even seen before. I did not haggle, or even try. I paid $28,000 cash. This was the first new car I have ever bought. I sold my Nissan 300ZX and Audi 5000 to be able to afford this. Now this car seems has a known defect that was not recalled by Toyota. Maybe Toyota was hoping most failures would happen after the 36K warranty expired. Yet many people seem to be getting a pretty good deal from some Toyota dealerships who admit this manufacturing defect. (I can quickly find more than a few examples on Prius-chat of owners saying they got replacements for either no charge or a few hundred dollars.) But not me. I now have a state-of-the-art hybrid with no navigation system, intermittent radio with limited tuning ability, limited climate controls, and no energy readout.

I currently have a blog online at talking about the Prius mostly in positive terms. My 45 technology books are available in over 15 languages (see under Robert Cowart) and have sold over 1 million copies worldwide. I would love to continue to praise the Prius to my readership and those who read my blog. However, this recent development has me wondering whether Toyota’s reputation for reliability might be falling into question. While I applaud Toyota for taking the leadership to research and produce the Prius (which I realize has been a loss leader while the demand for hybrids heats up), I also feel they must own up to electronics design errors, just as computer manufacturers such as Dell and Lenovo have done recently around defective batteries that were well out of warranty. It appears the MFD in the early 2004 Prius was defective from the outset and should be replaced without making disgruntled owners jump through hoops at their dealerships.

I look forward to your reply, and will await it prior to contacting regional or national Toyota Customer Service.


Robert Cowart

Friday, February 23, 2007

Wolverine digital camera storage drive

Gadget review: I bought a Wolverine 80GB external digital camera drive the other day to replace my I/O Magic Digital Library drive. I was using the 20GB I/O Magic for the last year or so, but for some mysterious reason it wouldn't read my new 4GB Sony Memory Stick PRO Duo. I wrote to tech support at I/O Magic about this twice, but go response from them about this problem. This was a major drag because I was in India and needed to download my pix in order to clear off my card and keep shooting. I ended up doing it indirectly using PCs in Internet cafes and paying for the time. It took a lot of time because the I/O Magic is a USB 1.0 device, so transferring 4G could take a couple of hours. The Wolverine is a USB 2.0 device and transfer rate to/from the computer is far faster than the I/O Magic. (USB 1 transfer rate is max 12Mbps vs 480Mbps of USB 2).

The I/O Magic has no LCD display, so you have to trust the little blinking LED lights that your photos have been transferred. The Wolverine, by contrast, has a display that reports the number of files being transferred and successfully transferred. Both units can act as external hard drives when connected by their USB cables to the computer. By far the Wolverine Flashpac is the biggest bang for your buck if you are looking for a card reader/drive. With rebates right not, it's under $100 for an 80G portable battery-powered drive. There is also a 100G model for about $150.

If what you're looking for is a high-capacity multimedia player (slideshows, FM, video files, MP3), the Wolverine ESP is also high bang for the buck. It's $379 for an 80G unit, and they offer a 160G one as well. There's no digital rights management (DRM) built in, so some files that you download won't play on it, but no big deal in my world. I make videos I want to play for friends, and have stills I want to share without dragging my laptop around to show them. This box is similar to stuff like, say, the widescreen Zen or Archos but those are both more expensive, have smaller drives, and don't have a 7-in-one card reader built in. I haven't toyed with the ESP in 3D so I can't really comment on it. The Flaspac 7000 I do use, though, and can report that it works quite well.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Costco memory-foam mattress

Well I finally broke down and got a new mattress for my Cal King-sized bed, after over ten years on a Beautyrest pillow-top. That was a great mattress, but started getting a divit in it where I had slept all that time. I tried a bunch of mattresses during my shopping, including the Tempur-Pedic (in the stores, not the home trial), and then discovered that Costco has a knockoff by Sleep Innovations.

It's called Novaform and it is extremely comfortable, and less than 1/3 the price of the Tempur-Pedic, (about $675 vs. $3000). However, the bad news is that it smells. Even after 3 or 4 months of airing out, it still smells. I worry about whether it's off-gassing and not good for my health, as well as just being annoyed by the smell and waking up with a stuffy nose as though I am having an allergic reaction. I wrote to the Sleep Innovations company and they suggested washing the covers. There are two covers on the bed, one with zipper which covers the entire mattress, and one more like a thick, fluffy, fitted sheet. I did wash them both (a major production), and can still report that the mattress smells. The odor is difficult to describe, perhaps a cross between vanilla and petroleum by-products. I don't want to take it back, because it's so comfortable and it's so heavy and big. It was easier to transport into the house because it was compressed and had all the air sucked out of it. Once you cut open the plastic bag, the foam reinflates and grows to approximately double the size. I will report back as the story develops.

The story is still that the mattress smells, and a friend who slept on it reported that she, too, was congested in the morning. I am going to be looking into a latex mattress to replace this wonderful-feeling but poorly-smelling mattress. I did write to the manufacturer to report in about it again. Below is the exchange (read bottom to top):

Hello Bob,
There are no flame retardents added to the foam that would cause the smell. It is simply a 'new foam' odor to which you may be very sensitive. The only additive we use in the foam is an antimicrobial which protects the foam from dust mites, mold, and mildew. This would not cause the smell either. For more information about the antimicrobial (ultra-fresh) please visit the following link:
In the meantime, I will inquire as to the possibility of replacing your mattress with my supervisor. Thank you.

Best Regards,

Sarah Strahle
Sleep Innovations
187 Route 36 Suite 101
West Long Branch NJ 07764

-----Original Message-----
From: Bob Cowart []
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2007 3:22 AM
To: Sarah Strahle
Subject: RE: Sleep Innovations Online Contact Form

Dear Sarah,

As you suggested, I did wash the covers (both of them) and line dried.
Then replaced. However, the mattress still smells like chemicals. I'm very disappointed, because I love the way it feels. My sinuses are just very sensitive to it, and I already have sleep apnea and this makes it worse because I get congested in reaction to the smell (or the chemicals causing the smell). Is there flame retardant in the foam? Perhaps that is the source of the smell? Many foams do have that added to the formula. Shall we do a replacement, as you suggest below? It has now been four months since the previous email, which should have been enough time for the product to air out.

Thanks for your attention to this matter.


Good Afternoon,
Some people have a higher sensitivity to the odor than others.
For the most part, the odor will dissipate within 7-10 days. Beyond that, we consider it a defect and I replace products for such reasons.Not all pillows from the same lot will have the same intensity of the new foam odor. An exchange could provide you with a less odorous pillow. The mattress cover can be washed. The safest way is to have it dry cleaned. If this is not possible, you may do so on the gentle cycle using cold water and then either hang it to dry, or use a no heat setting. This setting may take a long time for the cover to dry but is best because it ensures that the cover will not shrink. Let me know if you have additional questions. Thank you.

Best Regards,
Sarah Strahle

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sony DVDirect DVD recorder - Or how to copy all your old tapes to DVD without a computer

Gadget review: The Sony DVDirect VRD-VC20 is a DVD recorder that has direct inputs for DV camcorder (1394) , analog video (NTSC), S-Video, and stereo audio, and can act as an external USB 2.x DVD-+R/W drive, reading and writing a large number of formats (as most DVD drives in computers can these days). The neat thing is that like many stand-alone DVD recorders, it can work while not connected to a computer, to make 'dubs' of whatever you feed into its inputs, even live video. The typical use of this gadget is to record your old VHS tapes or your DV camcorder movies onto DVD without going through the tiresome process of sucking video into your computer, editing it, authoring a CD or DVD and then burning the disk. This keeps your computer free for other work and creates (theoretically) fewer 'coasters' because the DVD burner is only doing one thing (e.g. not checking your mail and bogging down the DVD burn which can in turn cause record errors due to the cache running low). In theory this is all great, and I have made lots of DVDs from my tapes. I like the Sony brand in general and have a VX2000 high-end 'prosumer' camcorder and other stuff (like a VAIO XP Media Center desktop computer which I love) and so I got the Sony DVDirect rather than another brand such as those available at Costco. It is quirky, however, and not fully ready for prime time. I am a picky consumer and expect engineers to do a better job than they did on this unit, if they want to earn their 230 or so bucks and expect positive blogs.

This is perhaps an early model (mine was manufactured in July, 2005), and it may be improved by now, so take this with a grain of salt. But I must report that it is prone to fouling up, creating coasters for various reasons, hanging during 'finalizing' disks, missing the beginning five seconds of a DV tape (due to startup time after you press the Record button). Here are a few observations and gripes:

One thing missing from this device is a way to tell it to record to the end of the DV regardless of what happens on the input side. If the signal is lost (momentarily there is no video signal), the DVD recording will halt. This can be triggered by a loss of time signal on a DV tape (between shots this can happen) or during a blank signal on an analog tape. For those of us used to dubbing audio and video tapes and just letting 'er rip, (start the playback and record machines and walk away for an hour), this is a major drag. I can return to find that the DVD has recorded 10 minutes of signal, yet the source has played an hour. It's really infuriating, and requires a lot of guesswork to see what has been recorded, since finalizing the DVD is required before easily playing it to see what went on it, and that prevents putting any further recording on the disk. SO I end up throwing out the DVD and starting again.

It is very picky about media. I have read the Maxell disks (not even Sony!) are what works best, though I do not know this to be true yet. I will try some and see. The Memorex 16x DVD-R blanks I am using do not work reliably at all!

I have tried a number of different disk brands and would say that overall my success rate is about 75%. I find myself saying my little silent techno-prayer each time I start again. You know what prayer I mean, if you have burned any significant number of CDs or DVDs.

There is a fan in the unit that is noisy, not terribly, but annoying enough that I can't wait to turn it off. I do like the vertical form factor of the drive, although the LCD backlight turns off after a while and you can't see what is going on unless you press the Stop button (which is OK if you are not recording!). It should stay on if the drive is powered up.

You can set this recorder to record 1 hour, 2 hours, or 6 hours on a single-layer DVD (or twice that for more-expensive double-layer). Forget anything but 1 hr (so-called HQ mode). Two-hour maybe, but the image gets pretty gnarly looking, due to compression artifacts on a single-layer DVD. Turn off the "synch" button and contro
l the thing yourself, even though you cannot get it to start recording if no 'signal' is detected (the LCD says 'no signal' even if the tape is playing, if there is no appreciable video). Still, at least you can feel a little more in control. Once the 'Sig' icon lights up, the Rec button will do something.

If you plug in a VCR as your source (i.e. a VHS machine), you'll have the problem of not being able to see what you are recording, because the output of the VCR will be going into the DVDirect! This makes cueing up your tape impsosible and truly annoying. The DVDirect has no video out jacks, you see, another major oversight. To solve this problem, boogie down to Radio Shack and pick up a video splitter (about $50) which will let you feed a signal to a TV as well as to the DVDirect without a loss of signal quality. I used to just use "Y" adapters,but this lowered the video signal quality (cut the gain in half) too much. The Radio Shack catalog # 15-1172 was just the trick I needed. See below. Then I got a switch box for multiple video inputs, stacked up my 8mm, VHS, and DV playback units , hooked them all up through the switchbox and splitter, and now I can dub any tape I have (VHS, 8mm, Hi-8, or DV) onto DVD. I'll post a picture of that stack later. Here's the splitter:

Gadgets and other stuff reviewed

I am a serious gadgeteer and will be posting numerous gadget reviews here as I discover and test new ones. These will include digital cameras, storage media, printers, scanners, DVD recorders, video projectors, musical instruments, computers, PDAs, phones, and other kinds of weird stuff.

My Vista book is out!

Shameless self-promotion department: For you Microsoft Vista users or the Vista curious, you may want to check out my new Vista book. My coauthor, Brian Knittel and I are really pleased with how this book came out. It's 1500 pages long, is published by Que (they have been my publisher for about a decade now), and is dubbed "Special Edition Using Windows Vista." It covers all versions of Vista and has over an hour of video tutorials on the included CD, too. Check it out on Amazon, where you can read the table of contents and a description. Here's the link.


My 2004 Prius

Gotta say I love my Prius, mostly. I even sold my Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo (300HP) just because I prefer to drive the Prius. It's like driving a smooth-running computer. Less than 1/3 the horsepower, and the handling sucks, relative to the Z, but the creature comforts (such as not feeling every crack in the road) make it well worth the tradeoff. The super smooth infinitely-variable-speed transmission is a dream. The best part is parking because the gas engine shuts off and you're driving by electric motor. I want to upgrade the battery system to run 40 miles around town on just electric, but this will void the warranty. Since I'm at about 37K miles, the bumper-to-bumper warranty is already over, but the power-train warranty is still in force. I must say that voice control for the nav system, audio system, climate control, and even looking for restaurants is pretty cool stuff. I call the nav system "Miss Information" (it has a female voice and sometimes gets me lost), but mostly I end up at the right destination even if not via the quickest route. The bluetooth link with the phone sucks, though. I do not use it, and Toyota should be taken to task for the software design. It does not import the phonebook from my BT phone worth a damn and the audio is distorted (my phone is an Audiovox PPC-6600 Sprint, running Pocket PC 2003). Don't expect to import your contacts list without major fiddling, and read up about phone compatibility before assuming it will all work. My Treo 650 had good audio with the in-car hands-free system, but the Audiovox did not.

EPA mileage claims 66MPG or some nonesense. I have been getting between 35 and 43 typically. I had a few tanks break the 50. I do live up a large hill, so I believe I am losing a lot on the way up, even though I recover as much as possible on the way down (using "B") mode on the shifter. If I turn off the climate control system, I seem to get about 5-7MPG more over the course of a tank.

Sometimes the onboard computer seems to lose its mind and the car will not start. This happens about twice a year. It's half turned on, meaning the accessories system is on but the hybrid system won't turn on. Nor will the car shut off so it can be 'rebooted.' It responds to no keypresses at all. It seems to have to just time out and eventually will allow me to restart it. This could take a couple of minutes. This has only happened in a parking place such as my garage, not in the middle of traffic somewhere, thank goodness. I have never had the 'dying in traffic' problem that some 2nd-Edition (2004+) models were reported have had.

One other complaint is how the shifter stick works. It's like a joystick on a kid's computer game controller. After selecting a gear (such as 'D') you release the stick and it always pops back to a resting place. The problem is, if you hold the shifter in a position such as Drive or Reverse for a few seconds, the engine go into Neutral. If you're used to keeping your hand on the shifter of your old car (whether automatic or manual) after shifting into a gear (and who isn't?) this can really foul you up. You're trying to accelerate or back up and suddenly no-go. The car just stops advancing. And unlike purely-gas cars, you don't have an engine revving in neutral when you step on the gas to give you a sense of what's up. In this car, nothing happens. It just suddenly loses power and is silent. Many people probably think it has just stalled. It just suddenly feels as though you have lost power. Select D or R again and the car moves, so long as you remember to take your hand off of the shifter stick and allow it to jump back to its normal resting place. I think Toyota should fix this ergonomic oddity.

I often load my Prius up with gear for playing in my rock band, and then have to back up my driveway into my garage to unload. I have noticed a distinct lack of backup power. Admittedly I have a full load and I'm backing up a steep driveway. Sometimes the car will not even move. No revving, no spinning wheels, and minimal sound from the engine. The electric motor seems to be the only engine working. If I press the accelerator completely to the floor and wait a few seconds, it will sometimes kick in the gas engine finally, and I can make it slowly up the hill. I believe the gas engine should come on sooner when the computer senses that the accelerator is floored and the wheels are not turning. I did have the front wheels lower than the rear (thus the drive wheels would not have been tempted to spin), so it was not the traction control that was kicking in. I'm not sure what the issue is, and it may have been fixed in post-2004 models.