Toyota’s Brain Hurts

Keep repeating: Toyota’s fault detection system is perfect. Toyota’s fault detection system is perfect. Toyota’s fault detection system is perrrrrfect…..

Did that help?

Number One Automaker Toyota has hypnotized NHTSA in several sudden unintended acceleration investigations by chanting that phrase. Its fault detection system could not be breached, Toyota said, and therefore drivers who reported SUA were nuts or incompetent.

In March, as it attempted to fend off Preliminary Evaluation 09-054 – a new NHTSA investigation into Corollas that would unexpectedly stall out, sometimes while the vehicle was in motion – Toyota invoked the magic words (formerly) guaranteed to make Bad Things go away:

“Toyota does not believe that anyone would have prior warning that the alleged defect was occurring or that the subject component was malfunctioning. However, a malfunction indicator would illuminate if a malfunction did occur,” (emphasis ours) Chris Santucci, Toyota’s Manager of Technical and Regulatory Affairs, wrote in his March 2 response to the agency’s request for information.

But that claim fell apart as the technical field reports began to trickle in.

Here’s one from Kerry Toyota in Florence, KY:

“Vehicle towed into dealership with a crank, not start condition. Technician confirmed engine would not start and MIL [Malunction Indicator Lamp] does not illuminate. The scan tool would not communicate with the ECM. Power and ground connections to the ECM were confirmed good.”

Here’s another:

“Customer mentioned that his vehicle stalls intermittently.

We confirmed this problem took some time to correct as it was hard to duplicate.

It happen while driving and also when idling. After stalling it would start up again and run fine. Then it will run fine for several days before stalling again. Complete inspection of entire fuel and ignition systems passed. No DTCs stored or pending.”

And another:

“Customer states vehicle dies while driving down the road…Technician verified the customer’s complaint and upon further diagnosis found the vehicle dies while driving. Vehicle restarts with no codes.”

And another:

“The Customer states: that the engine will crank but will not start.

The customer called AAA; the AAA staff confirmed the condition and tapped on the fuel pump module and the vehicle engine started. A few days later the customer encounter the problem again, at this time the vehicle was towed into the dealership. FTS inspection result of 8/27/04.  The customer complaint could not be duplicated. Engine starts fine (about 1 sec cranking is needed to start the Engine). Test-drove the vehicle about 3 miles in the city, no abnormalities were found. No DTC memorized in ECM.”

Is it just us, or does anyone else see a pattern here?

On Aug. 26, when Toyota rolled out its Recall-of-the-Week for nearly 1.3 million 2005-2008 Corollas prone to unpredictable engine failure, the company was forced to take a baby step toward the truth. From its FAQ to customers:

“Are there any warnings that this condition has occurred?

In most of the cases, the check engine light will illuminate if this condition occurs and the vehicle may experience harsh shifting.  However, there may be some cases where the check engine light does not illuminate and harsh shifting does not occur.”

This is first public crack in Toyota’s fortress of defense and it may go a long way to explaining why Toyota went so hard after Dr. David Gilbert’s test showing that its fault detection system – far from being infallible – is actually rather weak.

Toyotas go when you tell them to stop, stop when you tell them to go and the engine control module is none the wiser.