Ask The Best And Brightest: Are Toyota Losing Their Reliability Halo?

Cammy Corrigan
by Cammy Corrigan

I was watching the classic British gangster film “The Long Good Friday” the other day. For those not in the know, it’s a story about how Harold Shand, the kingpin gangster of London, struggles to keep his grip in the London underworld when the IRA try to muscle in on his patch. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say, it isn’t pretty. Shortly after watching the film, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal detailing yet another Toyota quality problem. From Floormatgate to the 110,000 Tundras which allegedly rust prematurely, to this most recent headline, “Corolla and Matrix face U.S safety probe,” there’s clearly something rotten in Toyota City. Much like the aforementioned Harold Shand, Toyota built an empire on the foundation of quality and reliability, but now, subsidence and rot are affecting that foundation. The question for the Best and Brightest is this: Are Toyota in danger of losing their crown of quality and reliability in the minds of consumers? Or are these recent cases statistical outliers that car buyers take for granted?

Cammy Corrigan
Cammy Corrigan

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  • YotaCarFan YotaCarFan on Dec 07, 2009

    As my handle on this website implies, I've been a Toyota fan for a long time -- I've bought nothing but Toyota/Lexus vehicles for about 20 years, and have bought many, all new. I see their quality as varying from year to year. In the early 90s, it was very high. In the late 90s and early 00s, it dropped. In the mid 00s, the quality got even lower, and they started de-contenting the cars. Starting about a year ago, the quality appears to have started rising, but the de-contenting continues. I was burned with a lemon '07 Camry V6 with a POS transmission and poor engineering (fit and finish, rattles, etc.), and then a '07 Lexus ES350 with a POS transmission and poor (but not as bad as the Camry) engineering (rattles, failures of electrical parts, piston slap, etc.). This, combined with horrendously incompetent mechanics at several Lexus and Toyota dealers that break more things than they fix (literally), and an attitude that "it's working within spec" regarding expensive to fix problems (e.g., piston slap, transmission thunking/slipping) has me disgusted. My local Lexus dealer today gave me a loaner that had an unsecured all weather floor mat designed for the back of the car stuck in the driver's footwell, despite all the publicity (and I'm sure corporate memos) about floormats jamming the gas pedal. (Yes, it was an ES350 loaner, the same kind that the CA cop died in.) For me, the halo is off the brand. They need to make right with their loyal and burned customers, even if it costs money. And, they need to shake up the management at their Lexus and Toyota dealer franchises -- although independent from the manufacturer, they are the "face" of Toyota/Lexus that customers see and deal with on a regular basis.

  • Mpresley Mpresley on Dec 07, 2009

    Everyone has a story, and it colors their perceptions forever. The guy in college who owned a VW diesel Rabbit 30 years ago will spend the rest of his life thinking VW makes garbage cars, if he had problems back then. I guess now it's Toyota's turn. The truth about cars is that they are more complex now than ever before, and there's more to cause problems. Besides, everyone wants a car that's goes 100K with little or no service. On the other hand, while Toyota is not my thing, I'd guess their product is as good as any, and better than most.

  • Tosh Tosh on Dec 07, 2009

    Broad generalization: The Japanese have a culture of making reliable vehicles, while the Europeans have a culture of making safe vehicles. Because the floor mat issue is a safety and ergonomics issue (ie 'foreseeable use'). I don't think Toyota cares exactly how far ahead they are reliability-wise, as long as they're ahead. As the joke goes, they don't have to outrun the bear, they just have to outrun Honda (or whomever is No.2).

  • Gardiner Westbound Gardiner Westbound on Dec 07, 2009

    Our '95 Toyota Camry was an excellent car. We wanted to keep it in the family, but our son needed a minivan for his growing family. We sold it privately for top dollar. Notwithstanding our positive ownership experience, widely reported reliability and customer care issues have caused us to avoid Toyota since. Lexus transmission problems and stonewalling owners kept us out of its ES and RX models. We bought Acura and Infiniti products instead. I don't know if we are typical, but in our case Toyota is paying dearly for its corner cutting blunders.