Toyota: We’ve Heard This Song Before—or Have We?

I’m not sure if the theme song for Toyota at this moment ought to be Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” or William Bell’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” (“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”) When the announcement came out of Tokyo yesterday, you could just imagine the claxons sounding in newsrooms across the U.S., with business writers jumping to it like those sailors in black-and-white movies about submarines when the “dive” signal was initiated. 1.53-million vehicles—Toyota and Lexus brands included--being recalled for brake and fuel pump problems!

I’m not sure if the theme song for Toyota at this moment ought to be Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” or William Bell’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” (“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”)

When the announcement came out of Tokyo yesterday, you could just imagine the claxons sounding in newsrooms across the U.S., with business writers jumping to it like those sailors in black-and-white movies about submarines when the “dive” signal was initiated.

1.53-million vehicles—Toyota and Lexus brands included--being recalled for brake and fuel pump problems!

Brakes! Fuel pumps! Disaster is imminent! Dive! Dive! Dive!

Not to understate the importance of master cylinders that don’t leak and fuel pumps that don’t suddenly stall, I’d suggest that some easy-listening music or something this side of Brahms Lullaby be put on, because things are not as extreme as they seem.

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Item: This is a voluntary recall. This is not an edict out of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Toyota is doing it on its own accord. Reportedly there have been no accidents associated with either of these issues. They are being proactive. That is a good thing.

Item: While 1.53-million is a big number, that number is for Japan, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the U.S.

Item: The recall in the U.S. is for the brake master cylinder, not the fuel pump. That’s not part of the recall in the U.S. And that reduces the number of recalled vehicles to 750,000 units. Not a trivial number by any means, but half of the scarier number.

Item: The problem isn’t necessarily caused by Toyota. According to the news release:

Toyota genuine brake fluid used during vehicle assembly for vehicles sold in the United States contain polymers. The polymers act as lubricants for certain brake system components. If during vehicle maintenance, brake fluid is used that does not contain such polymers or only small amounts, a part of the rubber seal (brake master cylinder cup) located at the end of the brake master cylinder piston may become dry and may curl during movement of the piston. If this occurs, a small amount of the brake fluid could slowly leak from the master cylinder into the brake booster, resulting in illumination of the brake warning lamp. [Emphasis added]

Which is to indicate that using “genuine” parts and fluids can be a good thing.

Item: Note the final words of that quote: “resulting in illumination of the brake warning lamp.” There is no surprise involved here. The driver is going to get a signal that something is wrong. Those lamps are sometimes dismissively referred to as “idiot lights.” In this case, the person ignoring the warning can be construed the idiot. The same day as the recall NHTSA put out a release regarding the 17.5-million Ford vehicles that have been recalled since 1999 “because of a faulty cruise control disconnect switch which can overheat and burn—potentially causing a vehicle fire long after the engine has been turned off.” Ford has been diligent in making sure that owners of the vehicles have been notified, but “NHTSA estimates that there maybe several million vehicles still on the road with the dangerous defect.” While plenty of those cars (e.g., 1993-96 Bronco; ’94 Mercury Capri) may have been resold a few times and therefore the letters are going to someone’s recycle bin (“Honey, remember when we had that Capri. . . ?”) or the vehicles themselves have been shredded, how many people are there who are simply ignoring the fact? Evidentially more than a small number, because otherwise why would NHTSA have raised the red flag?

It is easy to blame the vehicle manufacturers for things gone wrong. But here we have cases of car makers owning up to their responsibility. At what point do car owners have to take responsibility themselves?

For information on the Toyota/Lexus recalls, go to:

www.toyota.com/recall

www.lexus.com/recall

For information on the Ford recall, go to:

www.ford.com/owner-services/customer-support/recall-information