It’s sort of like “American Idol” for auto mechanics.

Amid the controversy over Toyota’s runaway cars, an automotive Web site is offering a $1 million prize to any tinkerer who can figure out the cause of the phenomenon.

For now, the causes are shrouded in an engineering mystery. The automaker says it has corrected the defects that caused sudden unintended acceleration by fixing floor mats and accelerator pedals, but some safety advocates and drivers believe there is something awry in the engine electronics.

The disagreement has left Congress and federal regulators grasping for answers as to whether the cars are safe.

To settle the dispute, is offering the prize money to elicit a “crowd-sourced” solution, one that emerges by inviting large numbers of people to think about it.

According to the company, the prize will go to a person who can “demonstrate in a controlled environment a repeatable factor that will cause an unmodified new vehicle to accelerate suddenly and unexpectedly.” Edmunds will make details of the competition available later this month.

The company’s analysis of complaints submitted to federal regulators showed that Toyota has more cases of unintended acceleration per vehicle sold than any other major manufacturer. But it noted that all carmakers receive such complaints and urged the industry to take a harder look at the issue.

“We’d like to get to an answer,” said Edmunds chief executive Jeremy Anwyl.


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