By on July 30, 2018

Toyota might have another stinky legal problem on its hands. A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in the US. District Court for the Southern District of Florida claims the automaker committed fraud by failing to properly address an HVAC problem that leaves Camry cabins in an unpleasantly scented state.

Condensation is the culprit in this issue, though the plaintiffs accuse Toyota of covering up the fact that it doesn’t have a solution.

The lawsuit, Javier Cardenas, et al. v. Toyota Motor Corporation, et al., was filed on July 12th and concerns Camrys of the 2012 to 2017 model year. CarComplaints uncovered the legal action.

According to plaintiff Javier Cardenas, who lives in Missouri but purchased a 2014 Camry when living in Florida, cranking the air conditioning in his car leads to a “funky, horrid, old smell.” Cardenas, who still owns the car, says passengers complain of a foul odor even when the A/C is off. A trip to a Missouri Toyota dealer resulted in a $300 quote for taking apart the instrument panel; instead, the plaintiff carried out the suggestions the dealer provided for mitigating the smell (opening the vents, periodically turning on the heater), to no avail.

The content of a follow-up call to Toyota isn’t mentioned in the lawsuit. Nor is it mentioned whether the second claimant, Kurt Kirton of Tennessee, has ever experienced such issues with his own 2015 Camry. Such is the nature of lawsuits.

2015-2017 Toyota Camry SE silver

Regardless, there have been issues with the Camry’s HVAC system, leading to several technical service bulletins (TSBs) over the years. As early as 1997, Toyota issued a TSB to eliminate musty odors that occured when the operator cranked cold A/C in a vehicle left sitting in a hot, humid environment for a period of time. The automaker blamed the odors on either a blocked evaporator housing drain pipe, or microbial growth in the evaporator.

A 2009 TSB informed dealers of a “newly designed evaporator sub-assembly … made available to decrease the potential for HVAC odor.” This bulletin was updated in 2011. Two years later, another TSB told technicians that the odors were “naturally occurring from the HVAC system and/or related environmental factors,” adding that “there is no way to eliminate these odors.” It also listed mitigation measures. The TSB was updated in 2015 to cover 2007 to 2015 model year Camrys and Camry Hybrids.

The two plaintiffs claim the source of the smell — suspected mold — poses potential harm to the vehicle’s occupants, and that the automaker covered this up by having dealers claim the odors were nothing unusual. They also claim they paid more than they would have, had they known of the HVAC system’s smell. Hence the fraud allegation.

“No reasonable consumer expects to purchase or lease a vehicle with a HVAC System Defect that exposes them to foul, noxious, and/or toxic odors, mold, and other contaminants,” the suit states.

It will be up to Toyota to prove that there was/is no risk to occupants from possible mold spores in the car’s vents, and that its communications with dealers and customers was above board.

This is not the first class-action lawsuit filed over the issue. Over the past few years, at least two suits have targeted Toyota for reeking A/C operation, while message boards are full of queries about how to eliminate such odors.

[Image: Toyota]

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46 Comments on “A Foul Wind Blows… From the Toyota Camry’s Dash Vents, Lawsuit Claims...”

  • avatar

    “This is beyond BO, it’s BBO”

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “This stinks, it’s total B.S.” – Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Wow: Seinfeld and Frasier references in the first 2 posts. I am impressed.

  • avatar

    Best way remove condensation left in the Evaporator and the HVAC air handler is to run the interior fan 30 min or so after the car has been shut off. Volvo and other manufacturers have done this for decades.
    A timer relay or flashing a module could fix this.

  • avatar

    Darn it all to heck, not a Ford recall or class action lawsuit against Ford. Well poop. I got myself all in a frothy lather coming in here to tell everyone how much Ford sucks.
    Oh well, Toyota sucks.

  • avatar

    We had the same issue with a 2015 Corolla and the AC smelling like something died. Not our problem anymore. Got rid of that POS!

  • avatar

    FWIW, our old Toyota techs were pros at spraying Lysol up the a/c vents in units that exhibited swamp stench. I don’t think I ever saw other cars that had that much trouble with it…

    I was told long ago to turn off the a/c and let the system “dry out” before closing up the car (as in overnight). I never had an issue with swamp stench.

    • 0 avatar

      I have done this for years on many cars as a preventative 2 or 3 times a year, turn the AC on full blast, liberally spray in side of the intakes at the base of the windshield. Never a problem.

  • avatar
    Stromm Sarnac

    I’m surprised this is such a problem for ANY auto manufacturer.

    Chevy figured out a simple fix back in 1994. It’s a small module that plugs inline to climate control. Really simple concept that works.

    Five minutes after the auto is shut off, it turns on the AC and runs it for five minutes. Just enough to evaporate moisture in the miles of duct work the B-Body has.

    Worked great on my 1994 Impala SS and became standard on the 95-96 B-Bodies.

  • avatar

    Own one (2016), never had a problem in almost three years. Shrugs.

  • avatar

    Hmmm. How can I make this Ford’s fault? Anyone? There has gotta be a way to prove Ford’s awfulness and Toyota’s perfection at the same time. Oh well, guess I’ll have to bring in something unrelated and ancient. Couldn’t hurt to blow it out of proportion, eh?

    FORD KILLED MILLIONS WITH THE PINTO and this “problem” is just Toyota helping its customers discover if they have allergies. I don’t see what the problem is. Oh yeah, its spelled F O R D!

  • avatar

    It is a Ford’s fault. That I can agree upon.

    But talking seriously there is an easy solution to it – buy a new Camry. You can sell old one for very good price, just do not mention issue.

    I experienced this issue only once when riding as a passenger in my friend’s Jetta. And it was in SF Bay area no humidity here. I could not tolerate that smell and dashboard was badly disintegrating too. I got impression that Jetta was a POS. Made be specially made in Mexico for America as an act of revenge. May be in Germany they make better ones.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some of it wasn’t due to people who leave the system on recirculate all the time. If that is done the interior of the car will become quite humid. I’m not sure why people do it but there certainly are some that do and they are easy to spot in a Seattle area winter when their windows are dripping on the inside from all the condensation.

  • avatar

    Would anyone know the material the evaporator was made of? Is it just aluminum or copper (at least piping)? And does if differ between manufacturers?

  • avatar

    I believe that they have Plasmacluster in Lexus.

    Kills the mold spores. I use it in a house instead of a dehumidifier and it works.

    Seems Toyota also put it in Camry XLE’s:

  • avatar

    This wouldn’t have happened in a Ford Windstar because the a/c never worked.

    • 0 avatar

      Some Fords blew out little pellets when the condensers exploded, that way the entire system had to be replaced

      • 0 avatar

        Mid 2000s Hondas did a similar trick with exploding compressor internals, scattering shards of metal all through the system and generally necessitating replacement of the entire system (all lines, etc).

        • 0 avatar

          My sister’s ’99 Civic did just that. Several times.

        • 0 avatar

          Then there’s the 80s and 90s Ford Black Death, where if the compressor fails all lines, the condenser, and the accumulator will require replacement. If only compressor is changed it usually takes 3 to collect the junk out of the system. Each time ruining another compressor.

  • avatar

    I’ve definitely noticed that my wife’s 2012 Camry has a slightly mustier than average HVAC smell if you restart the car after it’s been running AC on a hot day then shut off. When I drive the car I turn the AC off about 30 seconds before parking the car and it seems to mitigate the issue. But I’ve noticed the same musty phenomenon with other makes and models like my parents’ ’07 Fit and my old Ranger.

  • avatar

    The “dirty socks” smell has been around since there was A/C. Most all evaporators are made of aluminum alloy. Used to be they had a coating, similar to that used in metal parts in refrigerators, I think they quit that due to cost or environmental reasons. The coating was to prevent dust and other contaminants sticking to the evap which makes an excellent biology experiment with a little water.
    Also I’ve seen in many service manuals and S. B.s a procedure to clean the evap without major disassembly. They illustrate where to drill a small hole(s) and insert straw of spray can. Then spray nasty solvent to clean and kill mold, bacteria, and the O-zone layer. Pretty sure that stuff was banned soon after R 12.
    Then you plug the hole(s) with sealer or chewing gum and the system is less stinky for a while.
    RINSE and repeat.
    Lysol or bathroom cleaner with bleach will probably be effective. Just make sure to run fan with windows open for a while so you don’t start crying when behind the wheel.
    Related problem is dirt, dust, and bits of leaves getting in cowl intake. This builds up a layer of crud in the evap case and it will turn to mud or quicksand in any humidity over 33%. This will quickly corrode holes in the evap letting all refrigerant out.
    Then it’s usually 4 windows down and 40 MPH as evap replacement runs $1,500 +.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “How to Remove AC Smells in Your Car (Odor Life Hack)” – Scotty Kilmer on

  • avatar

    Both of my Jettas had this issue. If it was very humid, and you had been running the A/C for an extended period, then shut the car off and let it sit for awhile, the next time you turned on the HVAC fan you’d get a face full of stench. The smell would go away after about 2 or 3 minutes of running the A/C again.

    Make sure all your evaporator drain paths are unblocked… and also the air going into the fan is clean (check the cabin filter to make sure it isn’t caked with dirt and debris.)

    • 0 avatar

      Alluded to the cabin filter above.

      IIRC, there was a small twig caught in with the rest of the crap in that thing, the factory original, when I changed it a couple years ago! Didn’t think the grid at the intake had large enough holes to allow something like that to get in!

      With all the construction I’ve had to drive through almost daily for the past year, I’m sure that thing is almost clogged solid by now!

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        It is at most a 5 minute job on your Accord. Unlike some vehicles which require a contortionist (see Rogue, Nissan), or the removal of multiple plastic coverings (older Buicks).

        The Kia Rondo actually has a slide out ‘case’ to hold the cabin air filter.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          “Unlike some vehicles which require a contortionist (see Rogue, Nissan)”

          Altima as well. Buried in the guts of the center stack, it required removing the entire glovebox to access it, and it still required contortions and nearly mangling the filter to get it in there. Asinine. There was much swearing.

          I think they put it there so the glovebox could be large enough to hold a small laptop. In our other cars, the filter is behind a handy little door at the back of the glovebox. Can’t hold a laptop, but filter replacement takes 30 seconds.

        • 0 avatar

          My 2006 7th-Gen Accord had a little tray, and so does my Dad’s 2011 8th-Gen. On my 9th-Gen 2013, there’s a cover behind the glovebox that pops off, then you pull the filter out. Someplace where saving a few pennies doesn’t make any difference.

          My Dad actually paid the dealer to replace his once! Needless to say, he was embarrassed when his eldest son, me, in whose hands a flathead screwdriver could be classified as a deadly weapon, showed him how to access it! (Hardest thing in the Hondas is to unsnap the arm for the damper for the glovebox door in order to swing the door out of the way; I’m always afraid of busting the end when snapping it back into place.)

          My guess is that the high-end German makes are a Rube Goldberg nightmare, especially with the scent spritzers and other garbage they include just because!

          Do some of the other makes require you to get up under the dash to access those? Let me guess: extra points if it is an absolute necessity to have the car on a lift just because of the various angles involved? Mo’ money for the dealer in that case!!

  • avatar

    “Two years later, another TSB told technicians that the odors were “naturally occurring from the HVAC system and/or related environmental factors,” adding that “there is no way to eliminate these odors.””
    Yet somehow the a/c on my clapped out beater ’05 P71 manages not just to work perfectly but with no unpleasant aromas. Go figure.

  • avatar

    My sister-in-law had an old 2000/2001 Camry years ago that constantly smelled like a hockey locker room. I only know this because I once had a college roommate who played roller hockey whose gear and person required frequent Febreezing while he was sleeping.

    This is one of the reasons I prefer manual climate control. Excessive operation on a MAX or recirculate mode, particularly shutting a vehicle off while it is in recirculate, causes the moisture to build up and remain in the evaporator box. Running the HVAC on fresh intake at least on startup and before shutdown helps minimize swamp odor.

  • avatar

    I wonder if it’s possible to make silver plated evaporators, which would solve the mold problem – or maybe copper evaporators.

  • avatar

    not just toyota: my unlamented sainted focus had bad breath, too. the dealer didn’t even believe me about the stench so i never got any satisfaction. so i did get rid of the beast, and good riddance too.

  • avatar

    I can confirm this was a problem on my 2000 Camry. I bought the car used back in 2005. The funny thing though was when the AC was running, there was no funky smell at all… however when it rained, and the AC was OFF, but the fan blowing, it smelled like someone stuffed dirty gym socks up my nose. i initially had the dealer clean the system with the special type of disinfectant foam… but it did nothing. I also went through about a dozen cans of “fresh Linen” Lysol spray over the 5 years I had this car… and it kinda helped, but was really only a patch that didn’t resolve the problem 100%.

    During my ownership of the car, there was never any technical service bulletins about this at all. The Camry was the only car where it was THIS BAD. I have had other cars with a bit of an off smell with the A/C… but nothing like this.

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