Just as Paul Niedermeyer, Edmunds, Consumer Reports or anybody else who has the time to download and analyze 103.1 Mbytes worth of customer complaints to NHTSA, Toyota is pouring over the data. However, their attempts are being thoroughly frustrated.
According to The Nikkei [sub], Toyota found out that oftentimes complaints submitted to the NHTSA “either are unverifiable or lack vehicle-owner information required to facilitate follow-up.” In other words, a lot of the complaints look like they are bogus. Even if they are real, their validity cannot be ascertained.
And herein lies the rub:
Anybody can file on-line complaints at NHTSA without a VIN number. Try it. With any car make you hate. Anybody can give a bogus email and a likewise bogus physical address. There is no on-line checking. That information is as useful as most of the email we receive each day: It is garbage. Counting garbage intermixed with real complaints is useless unless the garbage has been removed. Drawing statistical conclusions from a 0.03 percent complaint rate, poisoned by data that just asks for being abused and messed with, is an exercise in futility. It takes us back to the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages, where anybody could point at a woman, call her a witch, and get her submitted to the sink or swim test. At least in the Middle Ages, you couldn’t do it anonymously and on-line. As Wikipedia says: “In modern terminology ‘witch-hunt’ has acquired usage referring to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence.”
If Carfax can correlate a VIN number with a car’s whole history, then the NHTSA should at least be able to cross-reference a VIN-number with an owner. Why does the NHTSA accept and publish a complaint without a VIN? Does the IRS process your tax return without a SSN or tax payer’s ID? If I can’t order a book at Amazon without a credit card number that matches my address, why can I report dead people to the government without the merest of checks? Idiocy or intentional? You decide.