Toyota Pays Record NHTSA Fine and Issues Sienna Recalls

2008 Toyota Sienna

Toyota agreed on Monday to cough up a record $16.4 million fine for delays in reporting problems with its accelerator pedals. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he was “pleased that Toyota has accepted responsibility for violating its legal obligations.” Pow!

Admitting no wrongdoing, the company could have contested the fine, but said it had “made a good faith effort to investigate this condition and develop an appropriate countermeasure.” It faces possible further fines by the NHTSA, as well as a flurry of consumer lawsuits, a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, even some rumblings from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Toyota’s action in paying the fine was sort of like taking a sacrifice bunt in baseball: They needed to do it to get beyond the controversy and move the game ahead.

But the company is clearly not having a good inning. The Lexus GX 460 rollover risk issue was the latest blow last week.

Another solution?

And now comes a problem with 870,000 Sienna minivans (1998 to present vehicles) being recalled because of possible rusting of the spare-tire support cable, which might cause the tire to drop onto the road in the path of an oncoming vehicle.

It seems that only cars in cold climates where road salt is used are at risk. But we hear that while the company is asking owners to bring their cars into dealers “for inspection,” there is no remedy available yet.

“Uhh, Mr. Jones, your spare tire is hanging by a thread, but we don’t have a new cable for you, so maybe you should just drive without the tire until we come up with something. Check back in a couple of weeks.”

Or maybe, “Here’s a rope we can use to tie up your spare tire (but don’t tell anyone we installed it).”

In its eagerness to get on top of this problem, Toyota may be creating yet another one, at least potentially. This is but the latest in a series of gaffes, goofs, and errors that have kept them from reaching first base. The controversies are taking their toll, according to a recent market research study:

Toyota has become less appealing to 53 percent of Americans, while at the same time 29 percent of Americans view Ford as having increased its appeal. Those were key findings contained in the firm’s [Decision Analyst] New Vehicle Brand Barometer Study of 4,294 American consumers.

I want to hear from you Toyota owners: Are you still keeping the faith, even in light of all this bad news?

—jgoods

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Used Toyota Sienna

4 Comments

  1. I have always owned toyotas – two celicas, 1 paseo and my most recent purchase a 2000 Sienna minivan – which has the sludge issue. my dealer recognized it several years ago, cleaned my engine, etc. and when my van stalled I took it back to the dealer (and they now have no record of me bringing my van there EVER) and I need an engine replacement. I have 103K miles and have been thrilled with this van even with the diagnosed sludge issue but with this latest runaround – I am done with toyota. I won’t buy another one, and I will tell everyone of my experience.

  2. Given what I’ve seen in the past year on the shortcuts that Toyota has been taking, I wouldn’t willingly drive one or let a family member drive one.

  3. I have been driving Corollas for over 20 years. Never had a serious problem or a breakdown. And 53 mpg !! Lowest cost of ownership of any vehicle.

  4. I’ve been a Toyota owner and can only base my judgment of the company’s vehicles based on my experiences: flawless. While I’m appalled at the lack of PR the company has shown over the last few months, I can’t say anything negative about driving the cars.

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