By on March 18, 2010

Toyota is a customer centric company. It now considers a recall that will please the vociferous crowd that thinks something is wrong with Toyota’s engine computer. Reuters reports that Toyota is discussing with NHTSA whether and how they should fix nearly 1.2 million Corolla and Matrix models. They are at risk of unintended stoppage. They might stall out because of flaws in their computer.

Toyota says it believes that the engine control unit could malfunction because of a crack in soldered joints in the unit, or because of an electrical short. Both conditions could cause the engine to shut down without warning, or fail to start.

Reuters says Toyota wrote a letter to NHTSA, requesting a meeting to discuss the problem.

After receiving 26 complaints of engines stalling in Toyota Corolla and Matrix models because of failures in the engine control modules, NHTSA had opened a preliminary evaluation of Corolla stalling complaints in November 2009.

Toyota might reach their elusive goal of 10m cars a year. Recalled cars.

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38 Comments on “Toyota Finds Ghost In Machine. It Stops The Car...”


  • avatar
    Contrarian

    They are on a PR nightmare merry-go-round. Anyone in the electronics industry will tell you that software is NEVER perfect and NEVER completely done.

  • avatar
    MidLifeCelica

    26 out of 1.2 million. A little over 0.002%. Unless it’s a manufacturing flaw in the ECU that affects every unit, why in the world would this warrant a recall? Just replace the damn thing when the customer brings it in. No different than a car with a bad spark plug coil or a dead battery. People who expect every car to be perfect 100% of the time are living in a fantasy world. Sometimes you get a bad one – fix it or sell it, but move on.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnAZ

      It seems that no matter what flaws or risks show up, some Toyota apologists will continue to believe that Toyota should just ignore public safety.

      In case it is not obvious to you, there are at least two key reasons.

      One is that there is no way Toyota can ignore yet another flaw and retain any credibility with the public or NHTSA.

      The other is that although there have been a small number of these problems reported so far, continued deterioration of an identified defect could result in many more, some of which could lead to deadly accidents. Defective spark plug coils and batteries wouldn’t likely kill people like a suddenly dead engine at 80MPH in rush hour traffic could.

      Try thinking about the public’s safety first before Toyota’s profits.

    • 0 avatar
      MidLifeCelica

      Wow. Harsh. I am not a “Toyota apologist” – don’t let the fact that I own a Toyota confuse you. A blown tire at 80mph can kill you too – how many people did that happen to last week? It doesn’t mean that Goodyear needs to replace everyone’s tires for free. 26 cars out of 1.2 million is statistically insignificant at this point. Yes, Toyota should investigate to see if there is a potential global flaw in the design/manufacture of this ECU, but don’t be surprised to hear that there isn’t one, or assume that there is a cover-up going on as a result.

      (BTW, in my experience “rush hour” and “80 mph” are mutually exclusive conditions).

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      22PPM is an EXCELLENT quality level for an automotive component. Obviously, ignorance about automotive engineering and quality is rampant on these issues

    • 0 avatar
      rtt108

      Don’t put too much stock in that “26” number. I suspect there are many many more failures, but people just don’t go crying to NHTSA for every little problem (or at least they never used to).

      If you spend a little time in Corolla and Matrix forums like I do, it appears that the failure rate for the ECU is on the high side. Nothing statistical to point to, but that’s the impression I’ve gotten from following this particular issue. And I have read up as much as I can on this particular defect since my 06 Matrix is affected.

      (if you want some fun, google something like: 2003 Matrix 5spd manual transmission bearing failure … or catastrophic transmission failure)

      A family member has an 05 Corolla that quit on the NY State Thruway due to this issue … at night, in the rain, 2 year old in the back seat … doesn’t it always to seem to happen at those times ?

      But I’d have to agree with MidLifeCelica in that I’m not sure this is really worth a recall. If mine quits I’d be happy if Toyota just fixes in free, no questions asked.

      I had a Ford with the infamous 3.8. Blew a head gasket at 70K+ mi. Ford fixed is free, no problem. For a car of that age, I was perfectly happy.

      The only argument I can see for recalling this one, is that the car does just stall dead with no warning at all. Not a sputter or anything, just click, your done. I could see someone getting stuck in the high speed lane, and getting killed. So it’s not really a trivial failure.

      It does seem that they are recalling everything though mostly for PR reasons.

      I had to laugh out loud at the comments on the Honda VSA “air in the brake lines” recall. Talk about recalling for a petty issue. If you continue to drive around with a soft brake pedal and don’t get the brakes checked, your too stupid to drive a car. That’s one that should just be fixed by free service. Just offer free brake bleeding, no questions asked, and a fixed VSA pump if the customer askes for it. Done.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      80 Malibu Classic and 81 El Camion with small blocks. When a piece in the distributor (it looks like a disc brake pad) conked out at the most dangerous times, you went to the GM dealer and the parts department pushed one across the counter for $75.

      Once every couple years you padded the dealer and GM profit margin.

      Toyota does seem proactive by changing out units at no cost. I’d be inclined to get it done rather than wait until it fails.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      Yeah, that philosophy will work well if your car quits in the middle of I-285 around Atlanta on any given day outside rush hour when 18-wheelers move along at 75+ MPH. And as for the tire comment, I guess you were not aware of the Explorer/Firestone debacle? Sure, people underinflated their tires, but Bridgestone/Firestone has been making tires since there are cars – they didn’t know that? Did any other tires fail? Stuff happens, for sure, but there’s a recall for a bad ignition coil (outstanding on some Audis now where the car may fail to start) and then there are those which could endanger the lives of the driver. Having your car unexpectedly die on you for reasons out of your control falls into that latter category.

    • 0 avatar
      MidLifeCelica

      I’m well aware of the Explorer/Firestone story. Although nothing really conclusive was settled in court, most people believe that Firestone made a crappy tire, Ford made an SUV that tipped too easily when a tire blew, and that they both colluded to cover up the issue after many people were injured or killed by this unholy combination.

      No one has been injured or killed (yet) by this new Toyota issue that I know of. No evidence has been presented proving that Toyota knew this ECU has a defect, or covered up the fact that there was a defect. Until that happens, I’m filing this under ‘complex but well-designed machinery can still fail’. If Toyota waved a magic wand that replaced every one of these with a new unit, would you feel safer? How do you know you didn’t just trade a flawless ECU for a dud with dangerous tendencies?

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      concerning the Firestone/Ford story,
      You forgot to mention one of the most important elements,
      Ford recommended a very low inflation figure (26psi I think) for better ride. That was under inflation in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      65corvair

      I have to agree with MidLife Celica, that few of a failure rate isn’t too bad. I had my computer fail on my 85 Ford, it wouldn’t start when engine was cold about 1 in ten times. Replaced it with on from a salvage yard, and it was good for years. My real complaint is with the 03 and 04 Matrix manual transmission. Their failure rate must be in the high double digits.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      MidLifeCelica – look, I am not trying to minimize the small number of reported failures and I agree that nothing can be 100%. I keyed in on your comment that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s fine for some items where, as I pointed out, lives are not at risk. But where they potentially are, that’s where the concern lies. A car’s inability to start isn’t dangerous. A car stalling is another entirely. And you point to the lack of reports as evidence that it’s not a big deal, but this evidence, if any exists, is with Toyota who have already shown themselves to be less than forthcoming. And I imagine you’re a bit less forgiving when it comes to airlines, airplanes and faults or failures with that industry (although the failure rate is similarly miniscule). While I don’t own a Toyota, my 1992 Lexus ES was one of the best cars I ever owned. But I don’t think Toyota is the same company it was in the 90s and I’m sure that if the same things were happening with an American car company, folks would be a bit more critical than they are of Toyota.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    “Toyota is a customer centric company”? Not from my experience. In the past, I owned several Toyotas and one Honda. Since then, several Subarus, several Volkswagons, and recently several Audis. My absolutely worst experiences in terms of the attitudes I encountered were with Toyota and Honda. I’d be the first to agree that Honda and Toyota make outstanding, if often dull, vehicles. So I always assumed the lousy attitudes I encountered with them were because they had such popular cars, they didn’t need to be friendly or helpful. Anyway, the “customer centric” phrase seems a bit overblown to me. What’s the evidence?

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Carpenter

      Sometimes, Jeff, you’ve just got to find the better dealers, no matter which car company you are talking about. When I buy a car, I don’t just buy the brand of car and all of the attributes of same, but the local dealer, too.

      Otherwise, please explain to me how (until very recently) Toyota had the highest repeat sales rates of any auto manufacturer in the United States?

      Now it is Hyundai as #1 with Honda retaining it’s #2 place, and Toyota at #3.

    • 0 avatar

      “Toyota is a customer centric company”? Not from my experience.”

      Cynicism apparently is over the head of certain people … I’ll be off for a few days, studying the style manual of USA Today

  • avatar
    WhatTheHel

    Jeff,
    You’ve owned several Toyotas, several Subarus, several Volkswagons, several Audis, and a Honda? Is that right? How can you really assess how good a vehicle is if you’re replacing it every month?

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      With spouses, weekend cars, and young drivers, I’m guessing a good many folks here own four or more cars at a time.

      My sister’s family has five right now.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Before PedalGate, this probably would have warranted a TSB.

    Post-PedalGate, this is going to be a problem for everyone, though Toyota in particular. Consumers, the media and (especially) trial lawyers are not going to make the distinction between safety and functionality defects, and problems like this one that would be addressed through the normal warranty process (which, at Toyota, is actually quite good) is going to see them demand recalls for anything and everything.

    An unintended result is that manufacturers are going to try their damndest to obfuscate or outright deny systemic problems—especially non-safety-related ones—to avoid having to do multi-million-unit recalls of perfectly good cars.

  • avatar
    SkiD666

    “In a letter to NHTSA, Toyota said the problems affected 2005 through 2007 model year Corolla and Matrix models. It said the stalling was due to physical faults in the production of the vehicles’ engine control units, which it blamed on mistakes at two suppliers, one of which was identified as Delphi.”

    So are there two different companies that make the same part and have the same failure issue?
    Was mentioning Delphi by name a dig at GM for the Lutz quote about the Cobalt EPS problem and JTEKT being a Toyota Subsidiary?

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Mr Carpenter: I agree with you about the dealer part, but my experiences were also with factory reps and regional people because of major problems the dealers were referring up the chain of command. I realize my experiences are anectdotal, but that’s all I’ve got to go by.

    What The Hel: Oh if it were only true that I changed cars every month. But since I’m over 60, I think you’ll agree that I’ve had time enough to give a large number of cars a fair try.

  • avatar
    kps

    “because of a crack in soldered joints in the unit, or because of an electrical short”

    Sounds like lead-free solder at work. Thank you, EUrope.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      Those things were just as common with Tin/Lead solder.

      But I do think RoHS was a bunch of eco-BS.

    • 0 avatar
      kps

      Cold joints, which could fail open over time, can occur with conventional solder, but they are less common and much easier to detect: good joints look shiny, bad ones look dull. (With lead-free solder, all joints look dull.)

      Tin whiskers, which cause shorts over time, do not occur with conventional solder; that’s what the lead component of the alloy is for.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Poor solder joints are an old, old problem. Just ask anyone who has maintained Volvo 240s.

    • 0 avatar
      Contrarian

      The short could have been a solder bridge or solder ball – which are also common with either type of solder. Not to belabor the point though, I didn’t see a root cause for it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      One of the very good reasons to get the lead out is groundwater leaching and similar unintended contamination vectors, especially when the equipment is disposed of.

      (Practically) no one is going to lick solder, but lots of people are going to throw away electronics. Better to not let lead, mercury, cadmium and the like get into landfills en masse.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      Years ago I had a 1989 Grand Prix. It worked fine for about 5 years, and then the engine would stall and the car would not restart. After towing to the dealer, the car would run fine. I told them I was not taking it back until it was fixed. They drove it everyday for a week and then it stalled.
      My friends at work used to work at Delphi (aka Delco) (in Kokomo). The told me many ECUs of that vintage had cold solder joints and replacement of the ECU with a remanufactured unit was the proper repair. (The remanufactured unit was probably a repaired cold solder victim).

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      Poor cure of conformal coat.

  • avatar
    50merc

    It just gets worse. Research now shows Toyotas go into uncontrollable acceleration when the ECU picks up electrical impulses from railroad crossing warning signals. Engine shutdown occurs when the front wheels roll over railroad tracks.

    Bertel, sarcasm also goes over the heads of some people.

  • avatar

    This might be a slick way to either fix or appease people who blame the computer for unintended acceleration. The computer will get replaced, sotto voce, but for a labeled opposite problem: no acceleration.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Once my Audi went completely dead, fortuantely at a toll booth. It restarted immediately. My old 9-5 used to stop dead occasionally, especially when the DBW throttle-body was suddenly thrown into limp-home mode.

    It’s not that uncommon.

    Fortunately, even the worst car in the world will never stall as much as an old Windows based PC.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    This issue has been under scrutiny since early 2007 by Toyota and NHTSA. Delphi is the only supplier, but two separate issues exist with two different Delphi suppliers. Some of the reason for the numbers appearing low is that a majority of the ECU’s have already been replaced due to this issue. If you have access to the warranty data you could see that Toyota was swapping out a couple of thousand a week on average. The recall is essentailly a clean-up.

    One question comes to mind….this same ECU is in the Pontiac Vibe. The failures occur at the same rate and for the same reason. Where is the GM recall?

  • avatar
    Ion

    I’ll have to bring in the parental units Matrix for this one. I wonder if Toyota service will try to sell me more premature routine maintenance this time. maybe since I’m at 18,000 miles they’ll offer to replace the carburetor or since it’s almost spring they’ll offer to change the winter air in my tires for summer air.

  • avatar
    ParrisBoyd

    Get serious, Toyota. NHTSA knows the problem is cosmic rays…

    Now that we’re finally getting a “daily defect report” from Toyota, I wish mainstream media would spotlight all those 1zz engine failures (MR2 Spyders and Celicas). Probably should have been included in the oil sludge recall. And that’s another untold story. Over 3,100 customers have signed a petition protesting Toyota’s response. Clean up your act, Toyota.

    http://uc2.blogspot.com

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Still waiting for the Toyota Recall watch series!

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