Toyota’s tall tales? (part1)

toyota-rack-2-aThe left hand side steering rack-end of a Toyota Vios 1.5G that had clocked only 6,827km suddenly bent at the treaded end, immobilising the car. Being still under warranty, the car was sent to a Toyota workshop for an investigation.
In its letter dated 5 March 2004 to the owner, Toyota reiterated from an earlier letter:  “… we are certain that the damages were caused by an external impact and not due to product or manufacturing defect. For your information, we had directed our 3 respective and separate organizations to conduct their own independent investigations to evaluate the causes relating to the damage to your Vios. The findings of these respective technical experts are as follows:

1.  Goodyear (M) Sdn. Bhd. Findings dated 28 Jan 2004 :

  • Tyre found to be cut through on the side wall (on serial side)
  • The cut could be inflicted by debris on the road.
  • Tyre damaged while in use

2.  T&K Auto Motor Sdn. Bhd. Findings dated 3 Feb 2004 :

  • Based on the physical inspection and examination, the reasonable evaluation is that the Left-hand rack end is bent due to an external impact.

3.  UMW Toyota Motor Customer Service Operation (Technical Support Team) finding dated 19 Feb 2004 :

  • The rack damage was a result of a strong impact on the tyre to cause the left-hand rack end to bend:  We strongly suspect that the impact point was so great that it caused the tyre to puncture and eventually to cause the left-hand rack end to bend.

We trust the above investigation explanation details will assist you in understanding the causes of the damage.”

The owner did not accept Toyota’s “explanation” and wrote to Mr Mayasori Hattori in Japan, the General Manager, Overseas Operations Department. He replied, “Thank you for your faxcimile of March 24, 2004 concerning your Vios. We are sorry to learn of the situation you have encountered. In order to ensure a thorough review of the situation as described, your case has been referred to UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd, whom you have already contacted, since they are responsible for resolving customer concerns. You will be contacted by that office in the near future”.
Toyota’s reply of 20 April 2004, signed by Dr Martin Wee, General Manager, Customer Relations Division, Corporate Communications Division, stated:
“It is indeed most regrettable that we have not been able to resolve this long outstanding matter in any mutually satisfactory manner. We wish to again attempt to provide an explanation of our findings on the condition of your Vios with the sincere hope that you shall find acceptable.
“First, permit us to assure you that we view this matter with the utmost concern and gravity. No effort had been spared in our investigation to rule out the possibility that any material or manufacturing defect had been the cause of the steering rack end being bent. As you have correctly pointed out, this is a safety related issue and had this been a case of material defect, you can be certain that we would have begun recalling all the other units of Vios that are on the road for safety inspections of this component. Toyota does not gamble with safety issues or the lives of our valued customers and their families.”
(The next paragraph states about evaluation by the 3 separate groups)
“The full and final conclusion is that an external impact had occurred on the front left tyre with sufficient force to cause the tyre to be cut and the force of the impact to be transmitted through the tyre & wheel rim and front left knuckle to cause the steering rack end to bend upwards.
“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. If there had been an inherent material defect, any deformation would have manifested itself the moment the vehicle is driven. As your Vios had traveled 6,827km when the steering rack end bent, material defect of the steering rack end may be discounted.
“With the above conclusion, Warranty repairs in this case shall not be applicable and the cost of repairs would have to be borne by you.
“The estimated cost of repairs as provided to you in our letter dated 1 March 2004 shall remain applicable for fourteen (14) days from the date of this letter. To reiterate, the total  estimated cost of repairs is RM1,752.55.”
(NOTE: A copy of this letter was sent to Mr Masayori Hattori, Toyota Motor Corporation, Japan)
The owner’s response dated 26 May 2004, sent to Mr Masayori Hattori quotes from Toyota’s letter of 20-4-04) and says:
“In other words your investigation had determined that the only possibility of the damage had been an external impact and all other possibilities have been ruled out. This was a shocking result as I was the driver of the car at the time of the incident and to suggest that only an external impact caused the damage makes a mockery of the speed I was traveling which was approximately less than 10km/hour. At such speed, it’s really puzzling that the velocity of the car warrants only the conclusion that you have arrived at.”
“Subsequently, I have been requesting for the report without fail but for one reason or other it has been avoided.”
“Later (21st May 2004), Mr Edmond Lim (Manager, Customer Relations Division) had called from Toyota and mentioned that Toyota will send the damaged part to Standards & Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) for an independent investigation. I made an appointment with him the same evening to find out about the statement made by Mr Ramesh on the absence of any report. To my surprise, Mr Edmond reiterated the same information and further shocked me by saying that only ‘visual inspection’ on the part was done. (See Toyota’s reply dated 20th April 2004, 3rd paragraph beginning with “No effort had been spared”).”
“Furthermore, the fact that I have been waiting in vain for more than 4 months for a report strengthened the fact that UMW Toyota is not serious in their efforts in dealing with customers complaint. I had pointed this out to you in my letter dated 24th March 2004 where I had said that I had given up all hope on UMW Toyota’s ability to resolve this matter. I had decided to give them a second chance after your reply dated 9th April 2004 as I believed after your involvement, UMW would have looked into changing their attitude to a more serious note. Sadly that didn’t happen and after this serious failing, it’s not only hope that I have given up but I have now lost total confidence in your management here in Malaysia to look into what is considered a very serious safety issue which could affect millions of car buyers of this particular model in the near future.”

Copies of this letter were sent to several parties, ie :

  • Ministry of Domestic & Consumer Affairs
  • Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association
  • Consumers Association of Penang
  • Public Complaints Bureau
  • Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Washington
  • Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Tokyo
  • Malaysian Automotive Association
  • Persatuan Insurans Malaysia
The Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (as it was then known), wrote to UMW Toyota on 23 June 2004 stating that as the car was still under warranty all damages should be rectified free of charge and not paid for by the consumer notwithstanding that the damage was caused by external impact. Toyota replied stating that the warranty covered only failure or defect caused by materials or workmanship. As the damage to the car is not covered by warranty, Toyota cannot repair it free of charge.
The car was fitted with Goodyear tyres and the owner had requested that the affected wheel and tyre be sent to the manufacturer for an inspection and a report. On 24 June 2004 the owner obtained a Customers Report which stated: “An approximately .05 cm puncture or cut is found on the lower sidewall of the tire. The puncture/cut is on the serial side, located 12 o‘clock from the serial number. Tire is no longer serviceable.”
He also had the car and damaged part inspected by The Automobile Association Of Malaysia which gave a Vehicle Inspection report on 7 July 2004 stating:
“… we have visually inspected the steering assembly of the above mentioned vehicle on the 8 June 2004 and noticed that the left hand side steering rack end (thread area) was bent. We also noted that there were no sign of external impact or scratch marks on the steering assembly.
“We also inspected the above vehicle on 22 June 2004 at Toyota Service Centre, Puchong, Selangor. Based on visual inspection, we did not find any sign or mark of external impact on parts at the front left hand side vehicle and wheel rim (punctured tyre).
“Based on the above findings, we are of the opinion that the steering rack end required further testing in order to identify the cause of damage.”
Finally, on 12 July 2004, the owner wrote to CAP seeking our assistance. He sent us copies of the correspondences and reports that he had obtained.
CAP wrote to Goodyear on 22 July 2004 seeking clarification on its report No. 24604. We received a prompt reply stating:
“1. The tire was still mounted on the rim when it was brought to us for inspection. The sidewalls of the tire were intact and there were no visible signs of a ‘blow out’.
2. The 0.5 cm cut / puncture on the lower sidewall appeared to be inflicted by a sharp object. No visible marks or signs of a ‘powerful impact’ were observed on either the tire or rim.
3. Both outer sidewalls appeared unmarked indicating that vehicle was traveling at a low speed or was stationary when the tire was punctured.
“Further inspection of the subject tire, removed from the rim, may be necessary to gather further information.”
We then got back to Toyota and asked for an explanation of its exertions that contradicted with the reports of the AAM and Goodyear. Why had Toyota been harping on a “powerful external impact” when there had been no such impact?
Till today, Toyota has not given us any reply.