Getting the Most Out of Toyota for your Troubles

(UPDATE  3/18/10: Toyota executive offices contacted me today, OK I actually contacted them first (310-468-4000), and offered to buy back the car.  We’ll wait to see the offer before deciding whether they are trying to help or just get rid of me.)

(FURTHER UPDATE: In a conversation with one of their executive analysts today (a representative for Toyota Executives) they said to me “I feel you are trying to swindle us”.  Not exactly a way to earn points for customer service.  OH and then they “call-blocked” me (a strange badge of honor).  No worries its simple to bypass, see below.)

Key Contacts at Toyota of North America

(If you call please tell them Marc sent you)

  • Jim Lentz – President/COO – 310-468-6285
  • Nancy Fein – VP of Customer Relations – 310-468-5277

You can also reach other executives by following these simple instructions to manage their voice mail system

  • Dial their direct line at 310-468-4000
  • Select “2″ from the first menu to dial-by-name
  • You can find a list of key Toyota executive names on this website
  • After finishing the message hit “#2#” to mark the message urgent and send it.
  • You can then dial another extension by hitting “*t” and then hitting “*a” to dial by name, again

IF you get “call blocked” (you call and the call just mysteriously drops) you can either use another phone OR simply find out how to do one-time caller ID blocking of your phone number.  For Verizon you dial *67 then the phone number then “snd”.  So if you are trying to reach Mr. Lentz its *673104686285 (Send)”

The problems at Toyota (much like the Camry and Prius) are accelerating out of control and just can’t be stopped.  Unfortunately, the problems go from the ridiculous (stuck accelerator pedals, brief lack of braking control) to the sublime  (body rattles and creeks and groans on brand new cars).  My own 2007/2010 Camry Hybrid has spent 7.5% of its life until now at the dealership.  My most recent trip to the dealership (my 17th one in 3 years) proved that all too true.

Yes there were many other Camrys there for their recalls but in striking up a conversation with those other owners I noticed they also had the same interior rattles and noises that I was (and have been) experiencing.  At that moment I decided to form the Camry Coalition.  Those are other Toyota owners (Prius and Lexus also welcomed) that have had the same ongoing problems.  I decided it was time to share my experiences so that others could benefit from what I have learned.  To date for my troubles I have received the following:
  • A new 2010 Camry for $2,500 (to replace my 2007)
  • $500 in dealer credits for service and parts
  • A 2 year/25,000 maintenance warranty that covers all standard maintenance for that period.
  • A free 15,000 mile tune-up
  • Did I mention the new 2010 Camry for $2,500?

Here is the background on what has happened.

My 2007 Camry Hybrid had been experiencing various rattles.  Most notably in the pillars between the front and back seat on both driver’s and passenger’s door and in the doors themselves as well in the dashboard center console.  I had been in about 12 times to have them repair it but they could never find the source.  As a result they offered to replace my car under the California Lemon Law  (check your own state for any equivalent  ”lemon laws”).  Unfortunately my 2010 is experiencing the same body rattle problems.  Throw in a badly designed trunk groan and my car is a relative symphony of sound.
Regarding California Lemon Law what that means is:
  • If Toyota is unable to repair the same problem a number of times (the amount is dependent, I believe, on the type of the problem, for my rattles it was 7 repair attempts) you can request Toyota investigate and make a claim.
  • If you are cleared under Lemon Law they will determine a “usage fee” (as dictated by the California law).  That is a fee you pay EITHER to have your car replaced or money refunded.   The fee is calculated based on the mileage on your car when you reported the problem for the first time.  For example I had reported my car problem at about 3000 miles and had it repaired numerous times over the following 2 years.  I opted to have my car replaced with a comparable 2010 model for a fee of $2500.  If I returned the car and didn’t take a replacement they would have returned what I paid for the car LESS the $2500.

EVEN if you can’t get qualified under Lemon Law (or its just too soon) you can work with the Toyota Customer Experience Center (or your manufacturer’s customer satisfaction line) to get some form of retribution for your troubles as I have done above.  Please note just having to have the rattle fixed once or twice won’t get their attention but if it goes 3 or more repair attempts you definitely have a credible gripe that they will find embarrassing and want to provide some form of compensation.  The types of compensation that they are likely to do are:

  • Some form of credit for further service at a Toyota dealership.
  • A free service (e.g. free 15,000 mile service)
  • If things get really bad a maintenance contract where they will handle all standard maintenance (oil changes, tune-ups, etc…) for a certain period of time or mileage (e.g. 2 year/25,000 miles)

So a few pointers:

  • Report problems early and often so if you have to go to Lemon Law you will minimize the usage fee.
  • Keep all service receipts FOREVER.
  • Establish an ally at the dealer.
  • Contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center (or your automotive manufacturer’s customer care line) at 800-331-4331 and tell them WatchingMarcitz sent you.  Establish an ally there as well.
  • For my own personal cause PLEASE when you are at the dealerships approach other like-minded Toyota owners and tell them about these tips.  Also please forward them to me at [email protected] .  I used to work in the auto industry (General Motors Corporate Marketing in the late 80s and early 90s) and I know how to pressure the automakers.  More people singing from the same hymnal will help and I will gladly organize the choir.
  • Please also keep me posted on your progress so I can gather all the information together.

Regrettably Toyota 2010 feels very much like GM felt back in the late 80s when they were presiding over falling quality and being overtaken by a foreign competitor.  For GM it was Toyota.  For Toyota it is now Kia/Hundai or Ford (both worthwhile considerations for your next car).