Thursday, July 28, 2011

Loyalty Lost

I may be sort of old fashioned but I tend to be a pretty brand loyal person when it comes to some things. Over the course of my adult life this has been particularly true in terms of vehicles. Basically it all boils down to the concept of a known evil being better than the evil which you do not know.

As such, early on, nearly 20 years ago in fact, I chose to go very conservatively (now there's a shock for anyone who knows me) with the product brand which at the time had the best product reputation to cost ratio. The perceived leader in quality was Honda but running very close in quality and a tiny bit better in price was Toyota. I was also looking at a vehicle type that Honda didn't offer anyhow, a pickup truck, so decided to go with Toyota. That is where my brand loyalty, through which I dragged Cathy's loyalty, has stayed for 18 years and 7 different vehicles. All of these vehicles have been purchased from the same dealer as well, Acton Toyota.

Off the bat it was a love hate relationship with the dealer, or shall I say the sales department, but that is to be expected when you are dealing adversarially, with money. despite the lack of love for the salesmen, I continued to go back to the dealer because of convenience and familiarity. I also stuck with the brand, out of loyalty that I justified by the fact that the vehicles were basically bomb-proof. You just put gas in and went. We never had problems with them. Over the course of time and vehicle trades I felt that I won some and lost others, in terms of getting a fair deal.

My current vehicle, a Toyota Tacoma TRD offroad, for which I traded in a Toyota Tundra TRD offroad, has been the exception to the quality rule. My impetus for the trade was economy as the gas prices in 2005 had just gone through the roof. Where the Turdra was getting less than stellar fuel mileage, the Tacoma was promised to get greatly improved efficiency. Why wouldn't it after all, it was a much smaller vehicle with a V6 rather than a V8 engine. Unfortunately, I got raped on the trade, of course.

Shortly after I purchased it new, the seals went in the steering rack. This was a warranty issue of course but was a bad omen. In terms of efficiency, it quickly became evident that the gain was going to be very, very small. A couple of MPG was all my $10k downgrade saved me, at the expense of, well the $10k expense of course but also comfort. The Tundra was pretty luxurious, the Tacoma, not so much. The dealer negotiation was also particularly unpleasant for that vehicle as well, so in general, I had a really bad taste in my mouth from the start of this vehicle relationship.

Fast forward a few years, it's 2009 and the vehicle has 42,000 miles on it. I really don't drive it much as work is less than 2 miles from home and I typically rode my Honda Ruckus anyhow. Except for driving to Maine in the winter, which we have cut back significantly on, the truck mostly just sat idle and rusted, which is a whole different can of worms that I won't open up on here. Anyhow, it's summer, it is like 90 degrees and we need to go in to Boston so I can but some bike parts from a guy. I think that was the last time I went into Boston in fact; I don't get out much. To my surprise, the air conditioning doesn't seem to work. SoaB! This is the first time I'd used it that season and in fact, can't recall when I'd previously used it. it is, however, past the 3 years and 36k mile warranty that you'd never need anyhow, because you bought a Toyota. Long story abbreviated, I took it to Lexington Toyota as Acton Toyota had moved to Littleton and were just inconvenient enough that we had stopped going there for service. They find that the condenser is leaking and needs to be replaced at a cost of $1200. I said, NFW!

A couple months later I decide to trade it in, so went to Acton to get a Rav4. We test it, like it, they have one, we sit down to deal with a rather hefty but pleasant fellow and all is well. Then, all of a sudden, they ship us off to the internet department because they catch wind that I'd done an internet query on the vehicle earlier and that salesperson wants the cut. No offense, but he is English as a second language and impossible (for me) to understand and negotiate with. I put a deadline on the purchase at the start, saying I need to be gone in an hour. They couldn't make it happen and we got up and walked out the door. For the next year and a half I lived with it, for the one or two hot/humid and rainy days where I needed to drive the truck to work, which how now moved to Littleton. I also upgraded the Ruckus to a DRZ400 SM so when the weather allowed, rode that to work the 3 days per week that I am actually in the office vs. working from home.

Last December we once again pondered what to do longer term. The decision was to run the truck into the ground, and to suck it up and get the air conditioning fixed. As such, I had Acton Toyota perform the service partially because I couldn't find anyone else to do it and also because they are within walking distance of the office. They also did a major, 50k mile service so I laid down just shy of $2000, assuming that I should be good for a very long while. Driving the rig home I tested the air conditioning. Sure enough, the air it blew was cold. That said it was 25 degrees outside.

Throughout the spring of 2011 we had below normal temperatures and even though I drove the truck to work a little later than I normally would have, when I switched to the motorcycle in April I hadn't yet needed the air conditioning. Imagine my surprise when a couple weeks ago, during the first heatwave of the summer, we take the truck to the range on a Sunday afternoon and call for some cooling. At first it is blowing cool air but never quite cold. Soon it's just plain ambient and not working at all. I need an oil change anyhow so back to Acton Toyota I go. My surprise at the system not working pales in comparison to what the service representative later tells me, that the compressor is now bad and needs to be replaced, which will cost me $2501. Wow, does that suck. My answer is of course, NFW!

So now I'm left having spent a bunch of money for an expensive part that is hooked to a system that is chronically broken. It's like a knee replacement surgery for a quadriplegic. Naturally I have no recourse, other than to spread the word. I've done so through a Better Business Bureau complaint. Really though, Acton Toyota is guilty of nothing other than selling me a piece of sh!t and not caring enough to do what is, arguably, right in terms of going to bat with Toyota for me. They contest that the system was fixed when they were done and I have no way to dispute that. I do find it odd that a system not in use would have additional components fail, but maybe they just dry-rot from lack of use.

Regardless, that is it for us. No more Toyota and certainly no more Acton Toyota. I'll send a letter to Toyota USA before I'm done but that is about as far is it will go. Will it make a difference? Of course not, but it will make me feel better. Maybe I can save someone some aggravation as well, by telling my story. Who knows. All that I can say is that for many, many years I was a devout and loyal Toyota owner. That loyalty has been lost. I just wish they cared.


Hill Junkie said...

Hmm, I'm a recent Toyota convert. After many years of USA car ownership, I got fed up with reliability. The straw that snapped my Ford loyalty was fuel pump that failed in Ranger a few months out of waranty. Cost me over $1000. I've replaced pumps before on older cars for about $15. Nowadays they are hugely complex assemblies inside the gas tank.

My first Toyota give me 100,000+ trouble free miles and I got good trade-in value for it. I now own two Scions. So far, so good. A friend drove an earlier generation Tacoma. They had frame corrosion issue. Truck was like 10yrs old, rusted out, and Toyota gave her a substantial credit towards new one, like almost gave it to her. That was just a few years ago. Has Toyota really changed that much in just a few years? Perhaps it is just a dealer issue.

Seems everyone is brand loyal until a bad experience comes by. Cars are cars. Reliability is far better today than when we were kids, but eventually you'll buy a car that craps on ya.

mkr said...

I'm on my 3rd Tacoma, well, second really. The first was before they called them Tacomas. Yes, I think the quality of the most recent ones is really bad. The predecessor was the old style, which had the frame issues. I had great luck with that one and good luck with the Tundra as well. Also had a 4 Runner and Matrix that were fine. The Sienna has had some sensor issues but has been good otherwise. Not sure where I'll go, probably Honda.

CB2 said...

With Toyota's recent recall issues I wouldn't be surprised if they did try and do something for you. My mother got a free motor from GM for being a squeaky wheel.

mkr said...

In order to try and resolve the BBB complaint they offered to credit me the labor for the condenser if I traded the truck in at Acton Toyota. No thanks, never again. I've been holding the rig thinking in the back of my mind they may recall for the frame, like they did in the model years leading up to this one (pre 2005). No luck so far.

edwnorris said...

Very interesting stuff given I'm driving an '03 Tacoma S-Runner that just turned 100K miles. So far so good for me... knock on wood. I got this one used from a small dealer in Tx and have been going to a small, reputable independent mechanic in Marlboro.

I got my previous Tacoma S-Runner from Acton Toyota in '02 and serviced it there for five years. I got the replacement in June '07 right around when Acton Toyota moved to Littleton, and given the posh splash of the new place and the distance, I dropped them in favor of Professional Auto Service in Marlb. Just seems like "Acton Toyota" has lost it's way, and maybe Toyota has as well. I'm tempted to touch base with Acton when I ultimately replace mine just to tell them why I'm not considering them.

Talk to Ed Kross sometime about his experience with Toyota. He got a royal screwing years ago and all he says now is... "Oh what a feeling."