Archive for August 31, 2010

Is your circuit board cracked? Soldered joints giving you problems? Is the glass coating on your varistor broken? If so, you’re not alone.

More than 1,000 complaints have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about the 2005-2007 Toyota Corolla and Matrix models. The problem is that the engine can stall at any speed, without warning, and not restart. Failure to start, the check engine light on and “harsh shifting” are also listed as “symptoms” of the problem.

2008 Toyota Matrix

Woopsee…. Another Toyota safety and quality problem and yes, another reluctant recall. This issue has been floating out there for almost five years. Toyota says the problem rests with an electronic control module (ECM), a tiny circuit board that controls the operation of the engine. This time, it seems the source of the problem is clear and relatively easy to remedy.

The new recall announced by Toyota on August 26, 2010 covers 1.1 million Corolla and Matrix vehicles for model years 2005-2008 with the 1ZZ-FE engine and two-wheel drive. On the same day, GM announced a recall of 200,000 Pontiac Vibes (a mechanical twin to the Matrix) for the same model years. All the vehicles were made at the GM-Toyota joint venture, New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. in Freemont, California.

2007 Toyota Corolla

In total, 1.3 million Toyota Corollas, Matrixes and Pontiac Vibes are potentially affected by this problem. Previously, Toyota had issued four (yes, four) Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) addressing the issue and instructing dealers to replace the ECM to solve the problem; so it’s clear Toyota has known about it for some time now.

2006 Pontiac Matrix - A mechanical twin to the Toyota Matrix

The NHTSA says that there have been six crashes reported with no injuries or deaths. Toyota says it knows of three unconfirmed accidents and one minor injury. Maybe there are more?

Toyota North America’s regulatory affairs manager Chris Santucci said, before the recall, that the company did not believe the alleged defect “creates an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”

Huh? So I’m cruising in traffic and suddenly my engine shuts down. I lose power assist for steering and brakes and the car stops. In my experience, a sudden loss of critical functions can easily create a dangerous situation that could lead to a serious accident.

I would classify this kind of systemic failure while driving as an “unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety” – just to borrow a phrase.

There was more pre-recall spin from Toyota: “We understand that some customers have been inconvenienced by engine ECM failure and some have reported engine stalling.” Just an “inconvenience,” huh? Oh yes, now it is considered a safety defect.

Ah, but how things change in just a couple weeks. Toyota’s chief quality officer (love the new title) for North America, Steve St. Angelo, has the revised corporate spin: “Our goal [of the recall] is to help ensure that Toyota drivers are completely confident in the safety and reliability of their vehicles.” Don’t you feel better now about your Toyota? I don’t. (more…)