Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Toyota's tall tales? (part2)

toyota-rack-1HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF...
Same Vehicle Model, and Same Story by Toyota
 

On 12 December 2006, another Toyota Vios 1.5E(A), under similar circumstances, ie traveling at about 10 km/hour, suffered the same fate. In this case, the treaded part of the steering rack end broke off completely. This car had traveled 6,614km (the earlier case, 6,827km).

Toyota took exactly the same stance in handling the complaint, and the car owner approached CAP for assistance.

 
We wrote to Toyota requesting for a full report as to why the car, which had almost stopped at a “Stop” sign at a T-junction, had gone out of control if not for the broken steering rack end. Toyota’s Customer Relationship Management Division Manager, Mr Edmond Lim, replied:

“We write to inform you that we are unable to furnish you with a full report on the incident involving the above vehicle.

“This is because, on 12 December 2006, when the above vehicle was checked-in to our Service Centre for repairs of the said accident, there was no mention of any defect or fault with the vehicle.

“Therefore, at the material time, there was no indication of need for any sort of investigation or report of any kind. Also, since our customer had indicated that he would pay for the repairs and it was subsequently so, the parts concerned had been taken back by him.

“The repairs were subsequently completed on 20 December 2007, 8 days after the vehicle was checked-in to our Service Centre.

“This complaint, however, was only brought to our attention on 8 January 2007, 19 days after the completion of the repairs.

“As such, there is no investigation report for this matter.

“We would like to substantiate however, based on our visual inspection on the 12 December 2006, it is likely that the impact from the accident caused the assembly steering rack to break, and not otherwise.

“We trust the above clarifies matters”.

The car owner, a Malaysian Indian, clarified that the incident happened when there was bereavement in the family, hence the urgency to get the car out of the workshop. They were having prayers in their house on the same day (12 Dec) and again on the 16th & 20th days after the death.

We wrote again to Toyota pointing out that Toyota’s bill for repair of the car came to RM1,525.35 and whether this was consistent with Toyota’s claim that the vehicle had suffered damage as a result of “a severe impact from an external source”. (the first car’s bill was RM1,752.55).

Toyota replied:

“On 12 December 2006, when the above vehicle was checked-in to our Service Centre in Prai for repairs of the said accident, Mr. C…. (Ms. J….’s husband) informed our Prai Customer Service Operation Supervisor that the vehicle was knocked by a third party vehicle from the front left hand side.

“We were also told that there was no police report made on this accident. We were instructed by the customer to proceed with repair, which would be paid by the customer.”

(NOTE: Toyota totally evaded our question, ie whether a car which had suffered a severe external impact could be repaired for RM1,523.35.)

We wrote again to Toyota about the cost of repairs and also asked at which part of the car should the “severe impact” have taken place for the steering rack end to break.

There was no reply for more than 10 weeks and we wrote to the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.  Four months later a reply was given directly to the car owner by the Ministry to file a claim in the Consumer Claims Tribunal.

On 31 March 2008 we wrote to the President, Toyota Motor Corporation, Japan stating that while UMW Toyota was claiming a severe external impact had cause the steering rack end to break, it had failed to show proof of its claim. He gave no reply, but UMW Toyota replied on 8 May 2008 referring to our letter to Japan. The reply stated:

“Kindly be informed that UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd being the sole distributor of Toyota vehicles in this country is fully and solely responsible for the assessment and decision-making of customer affairs and affairs concerning all Toyota vehicles sold and distributed by UMW Toyota Motor”.

(The rest of the content was a repetition of Toyota’s letters of 7 March 2007 and 27 June 2007).

The owner filed a claim in the Consumer Claims Tribunal in Penang. The manager of Toyota’s Customer Service Operation, Prai Service Centre, represented Toyota at the Tribunal. The manager presented himself as a technical person and in “explaining” the rust seen on more than half of the cross-section of the broken part, said that any metal exposed to air would turn rusty. He told the Tribunal that to determine whether the inside of the steering rack end (which is a solid piece of metal), was rusty, the rack end should be cut into two. If rust is found at the newly cut part, it would prove that the rack-end was defective.

The young Tribunal president, obviously without any experience with metals, agreed to the suggestion and the rack-end was cut (at a workshop). The cut surface was very clean and shiny and the manager said that proved the rack-end was not defective. The owner reminded the Tribunal that the manager had earlier stated that metals turn rusty when exposed to air and so asked for a postponement to allow air to be in contact with the cut rack-end.  At the next hearing date 3 weeks later, there was superficial discolouring of the half in the owner’s possession while that kept by the manager had rust on it. This time, a different person presided the Tribunal and he did not accept this “simplistic” test to prove whether the rack-end was defective or not. He wanted a more scientific test done. The manager then said a chemical test should be done. This suggestion was accepted by the president. Who would pay for the test? The owner wanted Toyota to bear the cost, while Toyota said the owner should bear the cost. The owner asked whether Toyota would replace the car if the test proved that the rack-end was defective but the manager balked. The manager only agreed to pay for the test and replace the part.

The owner sent the piece of the rack-end that was with him to a local laboratory for testing, without CAP’s knowledge. Meanwhile CAP checked with the Government Chemistry Department, Penang, whether it could carry out any test to determine why there was rust at the broken part (the rust was there when the part was removed from the car). The department said it did not have the expertise to do such a test.

CAP’s enquiries led to a Consultant, Failure Investigation Services, Joining & Inspection Technology Programme at SIRIM. Photos of the damaged part, with the rust visible, were sent to him together with an explanation of what was to be tested and why. He came back with a quotation of RM8500 and a description of the services, ie :

“Failure analysis on steering rack end.
Service :
  • Visual & low examination and documentation through photography
  • Scanning electron microscopy (SEM). High magnification examination/microexamination of the sectioned locations to reveal fracture mechanisms and defects
  • Microstructural examination — metallographic studies of the specimens
  • Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis — microanalysis of foreign material such as deposits or inclusion
  • Hardness measurement — to find out the hardness property
  • Chemical Analysis of steel material
  • Interpretation of results of analyses and documentation through a report”
  • As can be seen, much more was needed than a simple chemical test to determine the cause(s) of the rack-end breaking into two and the existence or rust on more than half of the cross section of the metal at the breakage point.
Discouraged by the results of the “chemical test” done by an ordinary lab, the owner withdrew his case from the Tribunal. Toyota must have been very happy.  

Toyota had made misrepresentations in the Tribunal to mislead it about the nature of tests required to determine the cause(s) of the breakage of the rack-end.

“Logically and physically, the steering rack end will not bend and deform on its own volition. The steering rack end is made of an alloy steel material which will not undergo any compound change unless exposed to extremely high or low temperatures.”

Knowing this fact, and that the rack ends of the two cars had not been subjected to “extremely high or low temperatures”, Toyota did not feel it necessary to determine why the rack-ends failed!  On the other hand it claimed “Toyota does not gamble with safety issues or the lives of our valuable customers and their families”.

We sought an independent opinion on the likely cause(s) of such strong metal becoming bent in one case and breaking into two in the other (as far as it was possible to do so based only on photographs) from the Road Safety Department. The pictures were studied by the Research Centre for Biomechanics and Vehicle Safety, under MIROS, ie the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research. The feedback we got was:

In the first case (bent):

“To cause such plastic deformation, you do need significant enough energy to bend such. The only possible source of energy would be due to impact via the tire assembly. With the black & white photos provided to us, I cannot establish any crack or further failure besides the plastic bending deformation. It could be due to the abnormal impact energy which is most probable using inferior material or went through improper material treatment and manufacturing processes is also probable to cause lower stiffness and on weaker elastic yield strength. However, with the information and evidence made available to us, I cannot determine anything further. Numerous scientific lab tests and analyses are required to determine such, which would definitely take up significant resources.

In the second case (broken into two):

“The document includes two black & white photos with a longitudinal and a lateral views. The photos show the fractured end of the rack, which I presume, is not due to the cut ordered by the tribunal court. It is a fracture without any other significant plastic deformation — based on the photos provided. I have no information how the other end looks like and also about the assembly around it. Thus, I have difficulty to assess further. In my technical opinion, the fracture was a brittle fracture which is without significant plastic deformation. A typical steel would have significant inelastic deformation which leads to significant deformation (to a layman). However, one usually hardened it through various processes such heat treatment, strain hardening, etc, to make it stronger.

“When it becomes ‘too’ strong, it would be brittle and catastrophic failure would take place. Any possible imperfection in the manufacturing process may lead to this type of failure too, such as, existence of micro voids, cut and match. It is the same situation on case 1 here. I cannot further establish any of the above due to the fact that significant further analyses are required with laboratory tests. This has been well acknowledged by CAP.”