Monday, April 12, 2010

Toyota, I Still Love You

Toyota's been having a rough time of it lately. The Japanese auto giant which not long ago enjoyed an untouchable reputation for quality, durability and value, has been plagued by safety problems which have utimately led to massive recalls.

And lawsuits. Because if there's one thing that holds true, it's that the moment you admit there's a possible serious safety problem with something, the number of accidents related to that problem suddenly multiply like tribbles. This isn't to say that some of these aren't legitimate, but for every legitimate claim based on a safety defect in a product, you've got 10 more shysters lining up to sue some big corporation, on the hopes that they'll just throw a couple hundred large at them to go away.

Like this guy, who called 911 beacause his Prius was accelerating out of control. Police were dispatched somehow to save him and talk him down. Since all we'd heard on the news at the time was about sticky accelerators and failing brakes, it might sound plausible.

I, being an incredible skeptic, didn't believe it for a second. I pretty much expected stuff like this as soon as the Toyota problems made news. And as it turns out, his story is almost certainly a load of manure, of the sort I might carry in the back of my Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.

The obvious questions arise when thinking about someone who says they can't slow their car down. Like, did you try turning off the ignition? Did you try to use the brake? Or, assuming your brain is not complely siezed, did you try putting it in neutral? No, instead of using any of these obvious methods of slowing down your car in an emergency, you somehow manage to call 911 instead. Isn't that what everyone does when their car is careening out of control? Obviously, this man is of stout mind and spirit, because he was able to keep his juggernaut, throttle fully opened, in control with one hand on the wheel, while making phone calls with the other.

The thing is, even if your accelerator was glued to the floor, there are any number of ways that you could stop your car from moving. Unless, of course, you goal is to take advantage of a well-publicized safety problem for the purpose of extorting money from a large corporation. And this guy had about $700,000 good reasons to try a desperate stunt like this. Oh yes - and his car loan for the Prius was in default, too.

But moving on to my own Totota. The fine vehicle pictured here rolled off the assembly line in 1995 and began it's life in the harsh environs of Maine. It passed through to another sibling's stewardship briefly, and then ended up in my posession in 1998. I have taken rather poor care of it ever since.

1200 lbs of gravelThis nearly 16-year old vehicle has about 86,000 miles on it. That's not much for a vehicle of this age. But far from being a garage queen, she has paid dearly for every mile. Her trips generally involve: hauling trash to the dump, moving furniture, dirt, rocks, tiles, bricks. You get the idea. In fact, about the only time this truck has the rare privilege of a trip without a bunch of crap in the back, is when there's a foot of snow on the ground, and it's used in 4WD to get around when other vehicles cannot.

And yet in the 12 or so years I've owned this car, exactly two things have gone wrong that are not "routine" -- that is, brakes, oil changes, tires, and exhaust. The first was that the starter motor failed. This was the only time it hasn't started in 15 years. I replaced it myself in about an hour, the new part was $100.

The other time, one of the leaf springs on the rear suspension cracked. I can't imagine how something like that could have happened. This was the time that she's actually been to an auto repair shop. The one time. I had the leaf springs upgraded at the time so I could haul even heavier crap around.

This weekend, I decided it was time for her annual check-up. I had bought rear brake shoes a year ago and never got around to installing them. I took the brakes apart and as it turned out, they were fine. I've never changed the brake shoes in the last 10 years so that surprised me. But since the parts I bought a year ago turned out to be wrong, it's just as well.

I also flushed the cooling system, something you're supposed to do every few years, and I had also never done. The coolant, typically flourscent green, looked like dirty motor oil. That was probably good to take care of.

Finally, I crawled around under the car and cleaned up some rusty areas of the frame and sprayed it with rust neutralizing paint. The new exhaust pipe I put on five years ago was also rusted through near the end and about to fall off, so I clamped it back together with an extra exhaust clamp I had lying around. That will probably hold it for another year or so until the pipe rusts through completely.

I probably spend a total of about 6 hours a year maintaining this car. Sunday's four-hour session was the most time I've spent in three years. I think it's the only thing I've done other than change the oil. I may have washed it three times in 12 years.

I have a dozen stories about how that truck has saved my butt over the years, but this post has already grown way too long in exactly the way that I recently said my posts would not. So I will close here. Toyota haters, feel free to go buy a GMC or a Honda or an Audi or whatever you want. But when the warranty expires, I bet you'll wish you hadn't.

1 comment:

Malnurtured Snay said...

I've had two Toyotas, and they've both been great.