Minivans, Toyota, and Reputations

[eo] Ne aĉetu kamionetojn de Toyota!

Our family is now in the market for a new vehicle, preferably a minivan or something like it. Our current van has been having problems (as regular readers know well), and when we decided against a family reunion on the basis of the van’s reliability, we knew it was time for a change.

The reviewers seem to think there are three choices out there for new minivans: the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Sienna, and lots of wrong choices. (See, for example, this typical review.) So, these two models were among the four test drives we had time for on Saturday. There are a few other brands we want to look at, and the brands we did see (Kia and Nissan) weren’t bad, but there’s no question that the best models we saw were by Toyota and Honda.

At least, that was the impression I had until Saturday night, when I settled in for an evening of online research. While the Honda search was about what I expected, the Toyota search was a different story.

The first really interesting review of the Toyota Sienna came from Phil Greenspun, a respected techie and dot-com gazillionaire. The review itself is mostly nit-picky, with some nostalgia for a simpler past thrown in for good measure, but the comments, over and over, complained of a serious problem with Siennas and Toyota’s heavy-handed treatment of the problem.

The claim was that Toyota V6 engines had a habit of causing oil breakdown much sooner than usual, causing sludge to build up in the oil. Oil breakdown and sludge are signs that the owner has been neglecting regular maintenance; Toyota was treating these cases as such, and refused to cover the resulting engine damage under the drivetrain warranty.

In and of itself, this isn’t all that strange. The Internet tends to magnify the message of motivated speakers, and people with $6000 repair bills have plenty of motivation. As a result, there isn’t a popular product made that doesn’t have some number of loud complaints. So what was different here? Quite a few comments, made over several years, contained the same basic story: relatively new van, often immaculately kept, develops engine problems, with the dealer accusing the owner of causing the problem. By contrast, Honda complaints seem to be fairly diverse: a transmission here, brakes there, a broken door handle there. This is more in line with a generally good manufacturer that occasionally makes mistakes.

A quick Google search confirmed the oil sludge problem. There is an online petition, with nearly a thousand signatures, organized by “Toyota Owners Unite For Resolution”, which has more information and many more cases, including photos. News reports from USA Today, Consumer Affairs, and two from the Center for Auto Safety (one, two) support the anecdotes further. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a possible class action lawsuit.

While Toyota has given ground to the complaints and no longer refuse to fix these problems, they continue to insist that the problem is caused by owner neglect, and that their new policies regarding sludge issues comes solely from the goodness of their hearts. In other words, they continue to blame the owners, even the ones with documented records. One wonders what evidence could possibly convince them to take some of the responsibility.

And this is why Toyota has effectively lost the ability to sell to me. Everyone makes mistakes; it doesn’t freak me out that Toyota has made bad engines in the past. And it’s only natural to assume customer neglect initially, since it’s the proper explanation for most cases. But now, they have nothing to gain by continuing to blame customers, since they’ve already provided an unlimited warranty against this specific problem, and the evidence is much stronger than it appeared at first. Yet they continue to insist on their own innocence. If they refuse to budge even with so little at stake and so much evidence against them, what will they do when there is more at stake, or less evidence, that some other problem I might encounter is their responsibility? Rarely do we consumers get such clear evidence of a company’s customer service performance; it seems foolish to disregard it when we do.

I am considering giving Toyota a last chance to explain themselves at the dealer, since their van is otherwise so good, and on the basis of a recommendation from someone I trust. But it’s not likely that they will be able to convince me to buy, regardless of what they say. After all, their edge over the Honda van is very slim; why should I take an extra risk with Toyota when I can get nearly as good without this risk?

UPDATE (2005-07-01): The choice is made!

UPDATE (2005-08-25): Comments are now disabled. It’s one thing to have a different opinion and argue for it; it’s quite another to impersonate people and lie about their work.

15 thoughts on “Minivans, Toyota, and Reputations

  1. Nearly 1000 signatures??
    Has anyone really checked this outrageous claim for accuracy??
    Sure, there are 968 so called “signatures”, but how many have been deleted and are still counted in this number of 968?
    More than half are no longer there, and what’s left have never been authenticated!!
    So much for the famous “Petition” being touted as gospel.
    It’s not much more than a big hoax!!

  2. “Outrageous”? Really, now. Is it so crazy to believe that something so widely reported elsewhere would not have a popular online petition as well?

    Or are you using “outrageous” as a strong way of saying “I disagree”?

    By the way, you might want to point out your evidence for the claim that “half are no longer there”, and explain what kind of authentication you think the petition requires. It does seem strange to make hyperbolic claims on precisely zero cited evidence. Certainly, I would be more likely to question your credibility than the petition’s, given only the evidence at hand.

  3. *** TROLL ALERT! ***

    Outrageous is the appropriate word to describe Charlene Blake’s petition. It is as phony as they get. If anything the word is a polite way of describing what is little more than a major fraud on Blake’s part.

    *** TROLL ALERT! ***

    None of the signatures can ever be verified as authentic because there is no way of doing so. In the eyes of anyone with half a brain, the whole thing is a concocted scam by that Blake personna.

    *** TROLL ALERT! ***

    Many of the ‘almost 1000’ signatures being claimed are just blank spaces. There are serious doubts that any of the remainder are nothing more than the work of one or two hard working misfits who keep adding fake signatures to the thing. Frankly speaking, it is a totally worthless document.

    *** TROLL ALERT! ***

    Blake has been shown many many times to have no credibilty whatsoever. There are countless examples of Blake’s outright dishonesty throughout the internet.

    *** TROLL ALERT! ***

    It is quite correct to say that this petition is just a sick joke, perptrated by a sick mind.

    Note from Jeff: Edited, as this comment unfortunately shows up as the excerpt on Google searches for Charlene.

  4. Uh huh. Sure. Whatever you say.

    It seems I was justified in questioning your credibility, seeing as how you seem incapable of answering my questions.

    But feel free to prove me wrong by answering the questions in my first comment above any time you want.

  5. Your concerns about anyone’s credibility are of no importance and therefor irrelevant.
    It also appearsthat your abject failure to recognize that worthless document for what it is shows that you are either blind, stupid, unaware of reality, or a faithful associate of that feminine fraudster…OR perhaps even ALL OF THE ABOVE!!
    Charlene Blake’s petition is an anachonism; nothing but a misdirected testimonial to her obsession to get attention.

  6. I disagree with you, George, therefore I am an idiot or a liar, is that it?

    That’s called an ad hominem attack, and is a logical fallacy. Around here, we expect people to actually provide evidence for their claims. I have provided mine; where’s yours?

    To help you out, here are the two things I asked for before:

    Proof for your claims that a majority of the signatures on the petition are either fraudulent or have been withdrawn.
    An assessment of exactly what standard of identity you expect an online petition to have before it can be considered credible.

    That should do for starters. If you have better evidence, though, by all means share it. Any evidence would be an improvement over what you’ve been shoveling so far.

    And I will warn you: any more insults and name-calling will be edited out, at my pleasure.

  7. To answer your questions:

    First, over two hundred and fifty signatures are “deleted” for some unknown reason in that petition. There are “Signature numbers” attached to blank spaces throughout the petition.
    Therefore the quoted “total” number of signatures alledged to be there (claimed as “over 1000!!) is overstated by at least a factor of 250.
    Second, not one of the stories, posts, or accounts in that petition has been proven or substantiated in any way. It is just a list of anonymous “hits”, with no way of knowing if they are the work of just a few individuals. Blame is always focussed on the automaker–never on the individual. Reality?? Not on your life!! Fiction for the most part?? Probability is high!!
    Third, Charlene Blake has already stated publicly that she has transposed names from other sites and added names to the petition WITHOUT approval or knowledge of the original author.

    So if you think I am merely “disagreeeing” with you , it’s much more than that. I can PROVE my contentions with facts. You cannot dispute them with factual rebuttal, just invective and threats–such as “If you don’t agree with me, I’ll remove your comments.”

  8. First of all, you give us numbers and refer to a public statement from Ms. Blake, but with no evidence other than your word. Forgive me, but someone who wanders into my site insulting me needs to do better than that. Provide your evidence!

    Setting aside the issue of forgery by Ms. Blake, you also seem to be of the opinion that every signature on the petition must be individually verified. I’m sorry, but no; that’s not the significance of the petition. There are no petitions I could find, for example, calling on Honda to fix problems in their vehicles (evidently because Honda fixes its problems without hassling people). People don’t set up or sign petitions for things they don’t think are problems.

    (Now, if you can prove that quote from Ms. Blake, then yes, there is a problem. If you can find it, I’ll update the main post to cite your evidence. See, I really do respond to evidence, even if the insults piss me off.)

    Moreover, you don’t address the fact that we’ve got more than an online petition supporting the Toyota engine issue. Certainly you aren’t calling USA Today “ignorant”, are you? Or the Center for Auto Safety? Or Consumer Affairs? You might be right about assuming too much from merely an online petition, but it’s never been my only support. I note that you claim me to be “blind” and “stupid” for believing the petition, but have nothing to say about the other articles.

  9. Removed by the site author. Again, I’m serious; change your tone, or you will not be allowed to post here again. For grins, I’ve left a snippet, so we can all see your rudeness.

    So I guess it’s OK for you to cast aspersions towards those who don’t share your belief in Charlene Blake’s charades, and you get pissed off when the truth comes back about your misguided faith in a phony?
    That speaks to a self serving arrogance and a holier than thou mindset..

  10. Again, just to be clear, I’m looking for cites for two issues: the number of blank signatures in the petition, and Charlene Blake’s statement that she faked some of the signatures. If it’s as easy as a quick Google, surely you can paste a reference into my comment box.

    And I’m also looking for civility. I think you are now aware that I can and will delete rude and insulting posts. Go call people names on your own blog.

  11. How interesting. “Charlene” posts from the same IP subnet as Mr. Jones, an IP subnet allocated to Sprint Canada. Somehow, she does this even though she uses a different ISP for E-mail that doesn’t offer service in Canada.

    Mr. Jones, have you now stooped to impersonation and lies to try and make your point?

Comments are closed.