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RAV4 Owners Fume Over Toyota’s Handling of Transmission Glitch

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RAV4 Owners Fume Over Toyota’s Handling of Transmission Glitch

By Christopher Jensen

Although consumer satisfaction studies have often given Toyota’s RAV4 “cute ute” high marks for quality, some owners are furious at the automaker because it failed to warn them of a serious transmission problem. Had Toyota warned them, they say, they could have avoided expensive repairs.

Benjamin Birkbeck of Yarmouth, Me., who owns a 2002 RAV4, is one of those consumers. His wife, Rhonda, was trying to merge into traffic when a suddenly faulty transmission meant she was “almost run over by a semitruck,” he wrote in a complaint on the Center for Auto Safety Web site. “This is a safety issue. My wife was almost killed.”

Dianna Radford of Albuquerque, N.M., had to pay about $4,000 for a repair on her 2002 model. “I have owned Toyotas for 12 years and I will never buy another one, the way I was treated,” she said.

They are not alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more than 120 complaints about transmission problems with the 2001–2003 RAV4, of which Toyota sold about 250,000. Often the blame is put on the engine control module (ECM), which tells the transmission what to do.

In March 2006, Toyota sent dealers a technical service bulletin warning them that some consumers might complain about harsh shifting. It said improvements were made to the computer “manufacturing process to reduce the possibility of this condition occurring.” It then told the dealers to replace the module and if that did not work to replace the transmission. But consumers owning the vehicles were never notified about the problem.

That kind of a warning is important because, as soon as the transmission begins to misbehave, consumers should stop driving it and get it fixed to avoid major transmission damage, said Lance Wiggins, the technical director of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association. Mr. Wiggins said the association is quite familiar with the RAV4 problem.

Overall Toyota has “a fairly responsible customer satisfaction program,” said Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. But this time consumers are getting a bad deal.

“At best you can say it slipped through the cracks,” said Mr. Ditlow. “At worst you can say that Toyota is knowingly imposing the risk of a very large repair on consumers.”

Brian Lyons, a spokesman for Toyota, said that when the bulletin was sent out the automaker didn’t notify consumers because it was not considered a safety problem; additionally, repairs were being covered by a warranty, he said, and Toyota did not realize that the ECM problem might result in damaged transmissions.

Although it is now clear that the ECM problem can damage transmissions, Mr. Lyons said the automaker still isn’t ready to send out notices to consumers because it is still studying the issue and whether to extend the warranty. He said consumers with problems should call Toyota’s customer assistance center at (800) 331-4331.

Mr. Ditlow interprets the March 2006 service bulletin as an admission of a defect, something Mr. Lyons did not dispute. But despite the defect, Toyota did not offer any special warranty coverage. Instead, the bulletin said repairs would be covered under the federal emissions warranty of 80,000 miles or eight years from the time the vehicle was sold.

The bulletin also told dealers they could only make repairs under that warranty based on consumer complaints once a problem had been identified — not to prevent the problem.

Many owners have turned to the federal safety agency, saying they feel their vehicles are not safe and asking for help in the form of a recall. But the agency has not undertaken a defect investigation, which could lead to a recall.

Mr. Ditlow, who has watched the safety agency and the auto industry for three decades, says he has concluded that the agency is reluctant to open investigations into transmission problems unless they involve vehicles that stall or have problems on the highway, which constitutes a clear safety problem.

Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the agency, said the problem has been deciding whether the complaints are a safety issue or just consumer inconvenience. “They are watching it very closely,” he said.

Rhonda Birkbeck says if an agency official had the same experience she had there wouldn’t be any doubt it was a safety defect. “I just hope they won’t still be studying it when someone loses their life,” she said.

http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/26...-customers-ire/

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wow, just wow at some of the comments to this article.

Even with a few small Issues A TOYOTA is far more car than anything produced by GM or Ford I think we all are aware of that. 1991 Corolla 565.000 still going srong. O O O O What a feeling !

— Jack Morgan

Sorry, but I’m not buying this story. If it was an American brand, then of course we could blame the manufacturer for marketing underdeveloped, chintzy, fuel-sucking garbage. But, as we are discussing Toyota, I can only presume that this is a case of fine Japanese machinery defiled by hamburger-eating, reality-show-watching clumsy Americans.

— Paul

at least there are people with half a brain commenting too

I’ve been dealing with this problem for the last several months. It happened to my 03 after my warranty expired. I needed a new ECU and a complete transmission rebuild. Final bill: $3500; campensation from Toyota after 1 letter and 2 calls: $0.

Their customer service people have no compassion for the situation and are spouting a company line about how a TSB does not necessarliy mean they are responsible. My computer diagnostic codes were dead on with this problem, yet they refuse to help.

I will never buy another Toyota again.

— Brett

You got a 1991 Corolla with 565,000 miles? Congrats. Because we used to had a 1985 Corolla with less than 200,000 miles, and the engine self destructed. My uncle has a 1991 Camry that has destroyed 2 flywheels within 150,000 miles. Part of the reason why we no longer own any Toyota’s.

As for the Transmission glitch thing. I don’t know, I’d consider a transmission glitch that eventually destroys the transmission a serious problem. One worth fixing before the consumers transmission breaks. Also, they are relying on the consumer to know that their transmission isn’t working correctly? I guarantee you that the majority of owners of Toyota RAV4 aren’t car savvy. And they’re not going to know that their transmission is malfuntioning.

As for Toyota not considering it a safety issue. It is definitely a safety issue. A good functioning transmission is necessary for merging onto the freeway, in and out of traffic, and to make any sort of emergency acceleration maneuver (like to dodge out of the way of a semi truck that’s moving into your lane of the freeway without signaling). I have a Ford Aerostar with a dying transmission (1994 and it wasn’t well maintained by the previous owner) and I’ve been run off the onramp on multiple occasions when the transmission didn’t shift down correctly to accelerate. I don’t use the Aerostar on the freeway anymore because it’s a safety issue.

— Jeff

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Those first two posters were drinking the strong kool-aid.

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Really, because I sense a strong brew of sarcasm in "Paul's" comment.
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i hope so... but it rings so true to the arguments i have been subjected to about domestics VS japanese

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Sorry, but I’m not buying this story. If it was an American brand, then of course we could blame the manufacturer for marketing underdeveloped, chintzy, fuel-sucking garbage. But, as we are discussing Toyota, I can only presume that this is a case of fine Japanese machinery defiled by hamburger-eating, reality-show-watching clumsy Americans.

— Paul

This guy won the comment thread! :lol:

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Yes, whenever I look at any RAV4's interior it makes me wonder how domestic cars could be so chintzy. :rolleyes: And remember this is coming from somone who has an '03 VUE for comparison. :D

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Unthinkable..Toyotas with problems? I thought they were supposed to be perfect and cure global warming, halitosis, sleep apnea, etc....

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Those first two posters were drinking the strong kool-aid.

Nope...they were eating the dry mix out of the packet!

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Those first two posters were drinking the strong kool-aid.

I couldn't imagine driving a '91 Corolla 50 miles, let alone 595k miles. What a miserable life he must have lived...

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Toyota, moving forward...at your expense!

Chris

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