Monday, April 19, 2010

Toyota's Ongoing Recall Woes

In the past day or two, Toyota Canada has issued a voluntary recall for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 270,000 first and second-generation Sienna minivans.

This one is for spare tire retainer cables, which may corrode and fail, causing the spare tire to fall out of its stowed position beneath the vehicle, potentially causing damage or loss of control for the affected vehicle or others following behind. All-wheel drive Siennas, which do not have a spare tire (the rear driveshaft needs the same piece of underbody real estate), are obviously not included in this recall.

OK, I agree that this is a potentially serious safety concern. I'll even agree that it warrants some kind of fix (like using chains, as nearly everyone did prior to adopting cheaper, lighter cables).

Clearly, Toyota, having just paid a large fine (and suffering much public humiliation) for not reacting quickly enough to potential safety issues - and facing another, embarrassing situation with Consumer Reports trumpeting a handling issue with its 2010 Lexus GX 460 - is going all-out to deal with anything remotely concerning as fast as possible.

What bugs me here is that other automakers will seem innocent here because Toyota is the only one presently addressing this issue. They're not. Countless hundreds of thousands of minivans and pickups from nearly every automaker are currently plying our streets with the same kind of frankly crappy design as that used on the Sienna, and I speak from experience that they can - and do - fail in exactly the same fashion. I can't count the number of minivans I've been beneath where the frayed end of a rusty cable is all that remains where the spare once resided.

Spare tire on a (new at the time) 2005 Buick Terrazza

I've actually been hit in the face by a spare tire falling off the bottom of a GM minivan, disturbed when I bumped it with the heel of my hand to see if it was tightly secured during a safety inspection (the cable broke and it fell on me while the van was up on the hoist).

There are ways around this problem. Chrysler vans have had a mushroom-shaped plastic safety catch since their 1996 revamp, and I've yet to see one of them so afflicted - not to say it's foolproof. Honda Odysseys store their spares inside; that's about as close to foolproof as you'll find in this industry - at least until you get a flat with a full load of stuff inside - then you might wish it was externally mounted.

I'm sure that the popular media will take this latest Toyota recall and run with it until the next hot news item comes along. Maybe the pro-domestic crowd can come up with another clever bumper sticker to place alongside their newly minted "Toyotas - keep 100 metres back!" decal to commemorate the occasion.

In the meantime, I will continue to believe that Toyota's products are among the best and safest available, and will hope that the company's way of dealing with these problems improves vastly over the train-wrecks that have occurred so far.

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