toyota cars

Toyota FAQ - (Toyota frequently asked questions list)

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How can I get an owner’s manual?

Toyota Service Publications
750 W. Victoria Street
Compton, CA 90220
USA: (800) 622-2033
Canada: (310) 618-4630
fax: (310) 631-8901

How did Toyota come up with those names?

Where did the logo come from?” Fishexpo told us that Car wrote that the symbol is “three elipses depicting the heart of the customer, the heart of the product, and the ever-expanding technological advancements and boundless opportunities that lie ahead.” And we had thought it was a stylized version of the Oh! What a feeling! ads...

Are Lexuses just rebadged Toyotas?” — the answer is no. Until 2006, Lexus was not a brand in Japan. Lexus shares most platforms with Toyota, but vehicles are always modified — far beyond the sheet metal — to become a Lexus, with cars conforming to a higher standard of luxury and trucks having more electronic rubbish. Now, Lexus is sold as a brand in Japan, ending the confusion.

Are Toyota transmissions made by Borg-Warner?” For many years, Toyota used Borg-Warner automatic transmissions. As far as we know, they currently use their own design. Borg-Warner automatics included the T-35 and A-40. The T-35 was not as reliable as it could have been, and was also used by Datsun. These transmissions were built by Toyota, though designed by Borg-Warner (many other automakers have used B-W transmissions. In some cases, licensed or purchased transmissions carry their real name - for example, Chrysler usually notes when they use Getrag transmissions.)

“Is the Yaris just another Echo?” Pretty much, it's a redesigned, re-engineered Echo. It’s hard to blame them, though, given that the Echo did not receive much in the way of critical acclaim, and the Yaris is the name used in Europe and Asia. It made much more sense to convert Echo to Yaris than, say, Rabbit to Golf.

Maintenance

Do I need to take my car to a Toyota car dealer for maintenance?

According to United States law, you do not have to go to your dealer for maintenance. You can even change oil yourself! - if you keep the receipts, in case Toyota challenges your maintenance in a warranty claim (either your oil-change-place receipts, or receipts for the oil and filtersyou buy yourself).

Dealer maintenance is often more expensive than independent shops, and there may be no real advantage to it. This is especially true for tune-ups, since there is no distributor, no timing to adjust, etc. A tune-up is usually just checking the belts, replacing the spark plugs, and "looking things over" - all for the low price of only $300. Read the owner's manual, and pay for what you need at a good local shop. (Generally, checking the belts and hoses, changing spark plugs and antifreeze every two years, and oil changes twice a year - but check your manual for details, and be sure to look at the appropriate part - most people don't need to follow "severe service" schedules. While dealers love that section and tend to quote it, it's just a recipe for higher profits.)

Should I use special spark plugs?

Most forum members agree that the stock Champions are just as good under most conditions as considerably more expensive plugs, including Bosch Platinums. Some have said that the "performance gains" claimed by some are due only to the use of new plugs, rather than special new plugs. Some people have claimed to have problems with Bosch plugs.

Oil and other fluids in Toyota cars, minivans, and trucks

The best oil is synthetic - it provides more protection during cold starts, when most engine wear occurs, and is more durable than standard oils. While expensive, it should prevent the sludging problems which plague many modern engines. Click here for Toyota's sludge policy. See your owner's manual for Toyota's specific recommendations for your engine, and don't trust a mechanic or dealer - they tend to recommend 10W30 because it's what they're used to, but many engines should have a steady diet of 5W30 (or 5 in winter, 10 in summer). Additives are usually ill-advised.

Toyota dealers usually recommend oil changes every 3,000 miles, but Toyota itself does not. We'd say to go with Toyota's schedule. Change your oil every 6,000 miles or so (more frequently if the owner's manual indicates it - ours says every 7,500 miles.) General Motors research shows that many people only need to change their oil every 10,000 miles! If you're not certain, go with synthetic. It's expensive but probably cheaper and better for the environment than 3,000 mile oil changes.

Don't forget to have them check the differential fluid! (Or do it yourself.)

Check your owner's manual for the correct transmission fluid. Not every car takes Dexron.

There are a number of different brake fluids, classified as DOT 3, DOT 4, etc. Use the correct one for your car - the one specified in your owner's manual. Mixing and matching can cause severe damage. Change at the recommended-by-Toyota intervals, not when recommended by the person doing the changes. (We really shouldn't need to say this, but people place a lot of trust in mechanics for some reason.)

Many recommend using distilled water with antifreeze since tap water is filled with minerals and, sometimes, salt. Check to make sure you are adding the right kind of antifreeze - there are currently two major types (standard and long-life), and they do not mix. We have to be honest, in our experience with modern cars, we've never had to add antifreeze or oil...so keep an eye on the antifreeze but don't expect to add any. If you have a car that recommends antifreeze changes every two years, stick to that schedule. Antifreeze can actually last far longer but the antirust agent's effectiveness fades.

If you're used to adding cheap de-icer and you live above the Mason-Dixon line, we suggest you splurge on a name brand de-icer (Prestone's started to use pink or yellow dye instead of blue to differentiate themselves, but now the cheap brands are copying their new color, too). It's well worth it. If your windshield washers freeze up anyway - go into a car wash for a temporary fix! The warmth should unclog your jets.

Car batteries can last a good five to nine years. Replacing a battery ahead of time wastes money and harms the environment. However, having your battery checked once a year after it reaches middle age (5 years old) to make sure it still holds a full charge can be prudent if you really, really don't want to be stuck on the first cold day of the year. Car manuals have instructions for testing batteries with a simple volt meter, but mechanics often do this for free or at minimal cost. A pair of jumper cables in the trunk, sitting with the spare tire, can't hurt.

Some manufacturers have encountered steering pump problems with replacement fluid. Be sure to use a good quality, recommended steering pump fluid.

We recommend topping off all fluids before any service or oil change. Otherwise, the oil change place will do it - often incorrectly, using the wrong fluids or overfilling.

Cabin air filters (pollen filters)

These should be replaced around once every two or three years, or if airflow isn't as good as it was. Instructions come with the filters, so you can buy one at the dealer (they should be fairly inexpensive) and just use their instructions, which were (the last time we looked) not too hard or time-consuming, and included diagrams. Some air filters install from underneath, some from above.

How do I change spark plugs?

First, you'll need anti-seize compound (just a little!), and a spark plug wrench or a socket with at least one extension - six inches is usually a good length - because modern cars often have the spark plugs at the bottom of a tube. Spark plug sockets have a rubber gasket in them which helps to grip the plug, helping it to come out more easily. Spark plug wrenches are designed to get into hard to reach spots, but can't really be used for anything else, and may not be enough, so I'd recommend getting a good, small socket wrench set (Sears Craftsman often discounts their high-quality sets!) with an extension and spark plug wrench. It's expensive the first time but you can keep it and use it on more than one car or project.

On many new engines, there is a cover which blocks access to spark plugs, wires, etc. To replace them, you have to take off the cover; often, that makes the location of the plugs easy. For example, on the three-liter V6, you have to remove the plastic cover by taking out two Allen-head screws. At that point, you'll see the spark plugs going into the plugs. On V6 engines in general, the back plugs are hard to reach, and may require a swivel joint and another extension; on some, you have to move the coil-on-plug ignition coil out of the way. Front plugs and four-cylinders are generally easier!

Taking out the old plugs is fairly easy, though they generally require some torque to loosen up. (Not too much since the engines are made of aluminum!). First, unplug the wire - grasp it firmly by the boot, the thick and heavy part of the wire. Change just one at a time so you don't forget which wire goes where (if you do, never fear, a posting on the toyoland or corolland forums should get you an answer - as will a Hayne's or Chilton's manual or a call to a mechanic.) When putting in the new ones, put just a little anti-seize compound on the tip of the threads (screwing it in will distribute it) so the plug is easy to remove later, and follow the manufacturer's recommendations on tightness. Too tight, and you have serious problems when you try to take it out (thread-stripping is expensive!). Too loose, and they might work back out or might be too far away from the action. Some Toyotas actually have torque specifications for plugs, so you should probably get a manual (Hayne's or Chilton's, or Toyota if you have the money) before starting; you may need a torque wrench. (You certainly will need a torque wrench if you have to remove coils from the plugs first, because they have to be put on to a specific torque rating).

Belts

The serpentine (fan) belt can last many years; have it checked once a year or more for cracks and signs of wear. The timing belt is another story; while it can last a long, long time, many engines will suffer severe damage if it breaks. So change the timing belt at the recommended times. That's usually about 60,000 - 80,000 miles.

Many new Toyotas come with timing chains. These last longer...as you'd expect. But they are subject to stretching and some chains have plastic "quiet guards" that can wear out. See your owner's manual for the correct interval - and to see if you have a belt or a chain!

Gasoline

Premium gasoline usually does not increase performance (unless noted in the owner's manual - the Sienna, for example, prefers premium, though it runs quite well on regular). For most cars, premium gas may actually hurt performance since the formulation is not what the manufacturer intended. Today, premium is usually only used in some high-performance engines and turbocharged vehicles to avoid knocking.

Engines

We are currently compiling a list of engines with specifications and other information. The preliminary page is here.

Hybrid-electric cars

What's a hybrid?

There are two different ways to use the term "hybrid;" as in "hybrid of two types of vehicle," e.g. a combination of minivan and SUV (Pacifica, Aztek), and as in "hybrid powertrain," which is the more relevant usage. A hybrid-electric car combines an electrical and a fossil-fuel powertrain. An electric car is very efficient, but has a short range and a long recharge time; a hybrid-electric car can make its own electricity and therefore avoids the range and recharge problem, and potentially can be more efficient than a similar gas car. However, the savings from using an electric engine as well as a gas engine - even with regenerative braking thrown in - can be offset by increased weight; so some hybrid-electric cars, according to hybrid engineer Evan Boberg (whose book Common Sense Not Required is reasonably priced) are no more efficient than an ordinary car with more lightweight components, low-resistance tires, etc. Toyota’s hybrids do appear to be more efficient, but the Honda Civic and Insight, according to Boberg, are no more efficient than they would be with gasoline engines. Diesel engines, incidentally, are almost invariably more efficient than hybrids, all other factors being equal, on the highway, where regenerative braking is barely used.

Amusingly, hybrid technology is not new - it has been used in diesel locomotives for decades; they do not apply the diesel power directly to the wheels, but use diesel engines to generate power for electric motors at the wheels.

Should I worry about electromagnetic fields in a hybrid car?

“Fishexpo,” a fleet mechanic with hybrid experience, wrote: “They are not much different than what is used in conventional cars. EMF is a very broad term - include electric as well as magnetic fields. Comes from various sources - anything electrical, moving, even biologicals can induce fields. Strongest intensity will be closest to the source and will drop off markedly away from the source.

“I remember reading that some people were concerned with levels in their house and cars. Levels were comparable between hybrids and conventional cars. All depends on where you sit in the car - in hybrids - source was strongest close to the batteries (5-30 milliGauss) level - in convential cars, it was the heater (5-30 milliGauss) level. In the seats they were almost the same (5-15 milliGauss). Some cars are higher than others - depends on how close you sit next to a source (engine, ignition, fans, electricals, etc.) Cell phones have that level or more in normal use - so this fear in hybrid tech is a total wash.”

Appearance

Q: The bumper on this gold/beige/metallic sandstone Toyota is a different color than the rest of the car - was it in an accident?

A: For some reason, Toyota found it hard to match the bumpers of metallic light-brown/gold cars for a few years. If you look closely or carefully, or under the right light, nearly all Corollas and Camrys have bumpers a shade different from the sheet metal.

Other points:

Be sure to wax your car at least twice a year with a high quality polymer wax; this protects the paint from the elements. The car wash's "hot wax" coating is unlikely to provide any long-term protection.

Spraying tires with that glossy "wet look" stuff may cause skidding and loss of traction. Be careful with that stuff. "Sidewall only."

Those cardboard folding sunshades can increase the life of your car's interior, though sun damage usually takes years to have any real impact (except in the "sun states.")

In response to a forum question, Matt (fishexpo) noted that 1999 Lexus GS wheels may not fit on an Avalon. “I believe the wheel offsets are different. Lexus GS300/400 are RWD and the Avalon are FWD - last I checked the Lexus had deeper offsets than the Avalon. Doesn't mean it won't fit - depends on your current suspension. Some have had no problems with certain aftermarket suspension setups - some with OEM struts ran into clearance issues when they installed the deeper wheels. Spacers may help - but that would also entail replacing the existing studs with longer variants. Your dealer would be the best place to find out the offset or use an online source like Tire Rack.”

 

Performance upgrades for Toyota cars, minivans, and trucks

See our performance section.

See the gasoline section above for notes on premium fuel.

Repairs and problems

See our repairs page for more.

Dealer versus corner mechanic?

In The Loyalty Effect, car dealerships are shown to have both the highest turnover rates and the worst records for good repairs. The next worst was the discount chains, e.g. Firestone. The best were the independent mechanics. Of course, there are good corner mechanics and horrible ones. However, the webmaster's personal experience suggests that the "indies" have charge half as much as the dealers, do better work, stand behind it, use the same parts (especially if you supply them), and finish in less time. That said - there are many dishonest independent mechanics and many honest dealers.

In short, if your car is out of warranty, we would recommend a good local mechanic. Make sure your mechanic has a computer setup which includes the latest manufacturer service bulletins and computer diagnostics (so they can get fault codes from your computers). Get recommendations from people you trust. (If they always seem to have problems with their cars, find other friends.)

Keep in mind that if your car breaks down shortly after the warranty period, or with a problem many other people have encountered, Toyota may pay for the repair if you go to your dealer. (See our dealers page).

There are good and bad dealers - if you have a good dealer, by all means, use them, even though the labor rate may cause fainting.

Common issues

A "water leak" may be air conditioning condensation. If the leak seems to be pure water, most likely it is runoff from the air conditioner. This can occur when you've been using the defroster, which activates the a/c compressor to dry the air and defog more effectively. Watch for antifreeze leaks, though, because air in the system can lead to cracked heads! And you don't want that.

ABS system failures (that is, the ABS warning light showing up) are often the result of leaves or debris stuck between the sensor and the wheel gear. A good cleaning may be all you need. Watch for unscrupulous mechanics. This is a good do-it-yourself job since it doesn't require much skill or experience, and sensors alone can be $70-100.

You can't lock the driver's door on some Toyotas if it is open and the engine is running!

If you get a check engine light, first check to make sure the gas cap is on correctly.

Many Toyota automatic headlights have a hair trigger - so the lights will normally go on and off seemingly at random (since there is a fairly long delay before go on). Yes, this makes automatic headlights more of a nuisance than a help.

Click here for oil sludge/gelling information.

Beware the child lock! Those with children are used to the idea that the back doors may not open from the inside, but those without children may think their door is broken!

For more common repair issues, click here.

How does Toyota do it?

There are at least three basic approaches to quality...

There are also roughly two management philosophies:

For more, see our Toyota history/management page.

General information

Information on Toyota Motor Corporation's environmental commitment, mission and vision for 2010, current management, and other corporate details are available on our history page.

VIN decoding (up to/including 1995)

The VIN (Vehicle Identication Number) is usually shown under the windshield. On vehicles made before 1989, an ID plate including the engine model, color code, trim code, axle code, and transmission code is on or next to the firewall (on vans, under the carpet below the front of the front passenger seat). On vehicles made in 1989 or later, an ID label with that information and the production date (but not the engine code!) is on the inside of the driver's door or on the lower part of the driver's door pillar. (Information from Toyota service manuals.)

What is variable valve timing?

Once upon a time, most engines came with two valves - one to let air and fuel in, and the other to let burned fuel and air out. High-performance engines, such as Chrysler's famous Hemi V8s, came with massive valves. The problem with this was that the big valves were inefficient at lower engine speeds, leading to both gas mileage and pollution problems. Eventually, cars came with four valves per cylinder (two intake, two exhaust), which helped increase flow but continued the problem of inefficiency at lower engine speeds. The next step was having only two valves open up at lower speeds, and four at higher speeds, which, like a progressive-opening four-barrel carburetor, solved both problems - the engine could be efficient and relatively nonpolluting at lower speeds, but still have lots of power (airflow) at higher speeds. (We're talking engine speeds, that is revolutions per minute, not car speeds, or miles per hour.) Today, variable valve timing is not just opening two vs four valves, but also determining when the valves open - earlier or later in the combustion cycle. They are often computer controlled instead of just mechanical. This can yield even greater economies (or power) and helps to eliminate the old tradeoff of economy, low-rpm responsiveness, and NOx production vs power at high rpm - admittedly at the cost of more expensive engines and a greater level of design complexity.

What is fuel injection?

Fuel injection is a replacement for the carburetors that were around since the dawn of the automobile. There are many basic types of fuel injection, but we should start by saying what a fuel injector is - it's basically an atomizer, something that sprays a mist of gasoline into the air. This helps the gas to mix better with the air and stay in an even suspension, so that it burns more evenly and creates less pollution and more power. (Think of cooking spray vs. melting butter on the bottom of a pan).

The first fuel injection systems were mechanical, but electronic fuel injection, where the pulse width (the length of time the injector is spraying fuel) is controlled by a computer, was actually used as early as 1958 in a DeSoto named the Electrojector. That system failed, with disastrous consquences for American use of the technology, largely due to the lack of stable, durable electronic components; its design was actually surprisingly similar to modern systems.

There are two basic types of electronic fuel injection systems, central (throttle body) and multiple, the difference being that in central fuel injection, a single injector essentially replaces the carburetor; in early American Ford Escorts, the carburetor-replacement theory was rather obvious even to a casual observer (since the air path wasn't redesigned as well). Today, everyone uses multiple fuel injection because it's far more efficient - there's a separate injector for each cylinder, placed right at the cylinder, firing fuel either directly in or, more commonly, firing fuel into the air path just before the intake valve. This helps to keep the fuel in suspension and makes very precise measurements possible, increasing economy and power while reducing pollution. Most common now is sequential fuel injection, where each injector only fires when needed; earlier systems had injectors paired together to reduce costs, so one squirt would go up against a closed valve, and the next one against an open valve.

What is electronic ignition? Distributorless ignition? Coil-on-plug?

Electronic ignition has been around a long time; it was invented by Chrysler and used on their cars starting in 1971 or 1972, but didn't hit some automakers until years later (Volkswagen in 1980 - when they already had multiple-point electronic fuel injection!). The system is a computer-controlled way to deliver power to spark plugs without cumbersome and maintenance-heavy breaker points, and with better timing and far higher levels of current.

The next major ignition innovation was distributorless ignition, which started becoming common in the early 1990s; this system relied on another computer to replace the rotor and distributor cap, instead using "coil packs" that were controlled more precisely. Distributorless ignition again raised precision while making the annual tuneup a thing of the past, as rotors no longer needed to be replaced. With long-life spark plugs, distributorless ignition made the 100,000 mile tuneup possible, if not necessarily the best idea. (Most mechanics and dealers still recommend expensive tuneups every year or two; we wonder what they're doing in there, since the only parts you can really replace are the spark plugs, which last at least two years and are usually about $1-$5 each, and the wires, which don't move and should last for many years. You can usually replace both yourself rather easily.)

Coil-on-plug is an even higher-energy form of distributorless ignition which moves the coils from a centrally located coil pack to individual coils right on top of the plugs, where they can deliver immense amounts of power without having to go through relatively expensive, breakable wires. They are controlled by much smaller wires which are less likely to need replacement in the first ten years. Needless to say, this does not bring a discount in the tuneup cost. However, coil-on-plug ignition, in some cases, does make it pretty hard to get the plugs out.

Toyotas as new cars

Buying or leasing - if you change your cars religiously every few years, leasing may be a good deal. However, financially, the best bet is to keep your car for ten years or more, and buy it outright. Most modern cars can easily last ten years without major repairs - and, when you consider that after it's paid off you're saving at least $200 per month, that's $2,400 per year in repairs you can afford!

Ask yourself if you really need a new car - maybe an off-lease is a better deal. Let someone else take the depreciation.

If you do buy a new car, of course, Toyotas are a good bet because of their low depreciation - they tend to hold their value. Minivans also hold their value well - Toyotas, Chryslers, Dodges, and Hondas. Now, with zero percent financing, may be a good time to buy as dealers are desparate.

Once you buy a new car, make sure you observe the break-in period religiously. See the owner's manual for details.

Also, remember to only buy the amount of car you need. If you're commuting, you don't need an SUV; you need a Corolla or a Prius. Even most families don't need to get SUVs or minivans. Whole generations were raised with sedans that were smaller inside than a Camry. By buying relatively small cars, instead of SUVs, trucks, or even minivans, you can double your gas mileage, and save the environment a lot of grief. (Lots of people buy SUVs "for their kids." I doubt their kids will appreciate their parents using up all their oil and polluting their air.)

 

Toyota in Australia

In April 2004, Toyota Australia built its two millionth car - quite an achievement for the market, but understandable since Toyota was the #1 automaker in Australia in 2003 and 2004, beating longtime stalwarts Holden and Ford. Toyota is also Australia's largest car producer. In 2004, a new Toyota Australia corporate headquarters was opened in Port Melbourne; it has three floors and holds about 340 people, and is built on the site of Toyota's first Aussie assembly plant (built in 1963 ot make Tiaras). The new building is not only designed with state of the art telecommunications, but also has stormwater recycling, external solar shades, double and triple glazing, zoned and filtered air conditioning, and an air reticulation system to reduce energy usage. Carpets are made with recycled materials, and high efficiency lighting is used. (Stormwater recycling means that water is collected from the roof and used for the toilets and outside sprinklers). It won a city award for the best contribution to sustainable development on a large scale.

Toyota now makes the Camry and Avalon in Altona - 113,614 were built in 2003, of which 66,200 were exported to other right-hand-drive nations. Australian sales exceeded 100,000 vehicles in the first six months 2004, the first time a single brand had sold that many in Australia within half a year. Overall, Toyota employes 4,300 people in Australia.

The Toyota FAQ: a work in progress

Please add to this Toyota FAQ! See the e-mail address at the bottom of the page.