Dealing with car dealers
Toyota may make the highest quality cars in the world, but the people who sell them seem to be about par for the course. Some dealers are sleazy and lie incessantly, others are honest and competent. Here are some tips if your dealer falls into the first category - and a link to a central list of dealer lies for your amusement.
If you have a problem not covered by the normal warranty, see if it is covered by the emissions (or another "secret") warranty.
Toyota sometimes authorizes repairs after the warranty is over, depending on the circumstances and the staffer's mood. While dealers can do this in some cases, few will take the risk.
Dealers may think something is not covered when it really is. This is often due to their own misunderstanding. Politely ask them if it would be covered under the emissions warranty (if applicable, e.g. if it is an emissions-related part).
You should read your owner's manual thoroughly, particularly the warranty sections, before speaking with a dealer, so that you can calmly and politely say something like, "I thought the warranty covered spark plugs until the first recommended change interval. Would you mind if I checked the warranty in my glove compartment?"
If cases where the service person is sure something is not covered, ask if they would mind if you called Toyota to see if you could get an authorization for them. Make sure your attitude conveys the message that "I'm trying to help you to get paid for this by the company" rather than "I'm going to complain about your miserly tactics." Service people usually do not mind your calling Toyota if you say up front that you are doing it to get authorization for them.
If all else fails and you have had a really nasty experience, try James Batten’s advice:
The person complaining of the shoddy work done at a Hawaiian dealership need not go any farther than the local college. Write a letter to the CEO and President of Toyota. Use words like "lacking honor" (as in leaving car in their care and they left it in the rain), "disrespectful" (lying about situation), "unworthy" (general attitude), etc...
Have a student or professor who speaks and reads Japanese translate the letter (for a small fee), then send that to Toyota of Japan addressed to the Chairman. He won't get the letter, at least not right away. His secretaries however will. You may find results faster than you think. A friend of mine did this several years ago when the paint began peeling off her new Toyota. Dealerships dead ended her, wanting payment for what they claimed was non-warranty work. She sent the letter to Toyota and a month or so later a representative of Toyota of Japan contacted her to schedule a new paint job, at dealer expense.
Ralph Nader's Center for Auto Safety, at (202) 328-7700, has information on hidden warranties, common problems, and a directory of lawyers who can handle auto fraud cases. The quality of the lawyers themselves is hard to judge - that doesn't mean we have received good or bad reports.
Watch out in small claims or special civil court because many lawyers will be over-eager to settle, when you have a strong case. This is because it is easy to grab the quick buck and move on to the next case, and more trouble to actually sue. Of course you run the risk in court of losing and having to pay massive legal fees. In many states you can handle cases by yourself.
Used car guides are interesting but rarely too helpful, because they are often inaccurate or missing key information. Consumer Reports' statistical methods are questionable, and the others tend to be high on opinion. Consumers Guide's book has concise write-ups and details on resale value and some specs. Jack Gillis' "Used Car Book" is interesting, but some of its conclusions are questionable, and we don't find it worth the money. If you're serious about spending a real chunk of change for a used car, consider all sources, including mailing lists (which are usually more reliable than newsgroups).
When looking for used car prices, remember the difference between retail and wholesale. Kelly's Blue Book is the one most often used by car dealers; they buy at wholesale and sell at resale, and pocket a nice chunk of change, figure about $1,500, along the way. Sell privately if you can!
Choosing a Toyota dealer
Nothing beats the recommendation of a knowledgeable friend or acquaintance - except your own experience. The sales and service staff may be night and day in terms of quality and the "user experience," so never assume that a friendly salesman in front indicates friendly and competent mechanics in back.
Buy from dealerships with good service departments. Avoid dealers with raucous ads on the radio where the announcer screams at you.
You do not have to have your car repaired by the dealer you bought it from.
Note. Some people think dealers hire the best and the brightest. In fact, according to some research I've been reading, dealers have a terrible employee loyalty rate, and their mechanics may have low morale and little experience. Though there are many dealers who have excellent mechanics, with lots of experience and a desire to do the job right, many others do not. Don't assume that the dealer is always better than the garage across the street.
Get a copy of your complaint even if no problem is found by the service techs, so you can, later on, show that a problem existed earlier. That may convince Toyota to make good after the warranty ends, or increase a lemon law settlements.
If there is a "small accident," insist on seeing the damage in person and get everything in writing. Otherwise you have little protection against shoddy repairs and peeling paint. Take my word on this one!
Do not blindly believe anything your dealer tells you. Get everything in writing. Check questionable statements in the forum.
If you bring in your car, do not accept the "I don't hear it" or "They all do that" defense. Ask for a test drive with the manager or a mechanic. Be assertive without being aggressive or hostile.
Treat your dealership and service advisors well. They have a lot of discretion in providing extra service. If they like you, they may also give you a better mechanic.
Only use the recommended oil, brake fluid, and transmission fluid. There are no "universal" fluids.
If you get a bad dealer, be sure to fill out and return your survey (knowing that dealers see negative surveys!). See the note at the bottom of this page.
See your owner's manual for addresses and phone numbers.
If you suspect your dealer has defrauded Toyota with false warranty claims, report it and ask them to let you know what happens.
Be polite and calm but assertive at all times. Do not take no for an answer but do not act angry or threaten them. This will make matters worse. They are often sensitive, defensive, and uninformed. If all else fails, call back and speak to someone else.
One key with out-of-warranty repairs is whether the problem existed during the warranty period! That's a good reason to get all your complaints acknowledged by the dealer in repair forms and to keep them (and keep 'em well-organized).
Never say bad things about your dealer or anyone else unless you absolutely must. Do not subject them to the anger caused by your dealer or their employees. This will only hurt your case!
It is easy to be pegged and written off as a "bad customer." Don't let them put you into the loony category.
Is the problem with your car or your dealer?
If your car has lots of problems, your dealer or mechanic might be screwing it up when trying to find other problems.
If you have problems immediately after having your car serviced, it may have been the mechanic's fault. Examples:
- stalling after a tune up
- brake noises after a brake job
- oil leak after oil change
- transmission problems after transmission servicing or fluid change. (On any car, check the antifreeze and/or oil a few days after any change.)
- find out what the problem was and fix it yourself or demand that the mechanic fix the car (may be risky).
- ask for your money back
- find another mechanic
- report the incident to your Consumer Affairs Department, Attorney General, Toyota, and/or the BBB (which may be useless in some areas).
Most new cars cannot use 10W40 oil. Many Toyotas do not use Dexron transmission fluid.
Always use the recommended oil and trans fluid. Never take the oil change place’s or the dealer’s word for it. Look it up yourself.
When they can't find or fix it...
When the service people cannot find problem, ask to take a drive with the mechanic or a service advisor. If they cannot solve it, ask the service advisor to escalate it; if they don't know the term, suggest trying new steps, such as requesting support from Toyota or checking the service bulletins. You can also call the Toyota Customer Center and ask them to provide technical assistance to the dealership.
Trying another dealer often works.
You may wish to bone up on the technical service bulletins, available from Alldata. Keep in mind that if you tell them you looked up the bulletin, you will likely be marked as a crank; but if you attribute the information to "a friend with the same car," you'll probably be OK.
Check the rest of the site for answers before posting.
Don't post messages like "this broke and I will speak to the dealer about it." Go to the dealer first if your car is under warranty.
If you are having problems with Toyota, an angry message or two is fine. However, exaggerating and spamming reduce the value of the newsgroup to others in need.
Step by Step
Even if you are in an adversarial relationship, act in a friendly, nonthreatening, non-angry, non-adversarial manner -- but don't take "no" for an answer.
When you have a problem:
- Try to resolve it through discussion with the service advisor.
- If needed, ask to speak with the service manager.
- The next step is to call Toyota, from a pay phone if you have to. Work may suddenly become free or your car may get fixed days or weeks ahead of time.
- If your dealer keeps fixing the same thing over and over again, get another dealer, or ask the service manager to escalate the problem (as mentioned earlier).
- If your dealer treats you badly, lies to you, etc., get another dealer.
- If you have a continuing problem, speak to the people at your zone office (in your owner's manual). Be polite but assertive. Do not threaten them. If they still don't fix the car, politely begin to negotiate.
- If you are still having the same problem despite several attempts at repairs, read your lemon law guide (in your glove compartment).
- Try James Batten’s advice under Resources.
- File an official lemon law complaint with your state if possible. This will get Toyota's attention and help your negotiation along, but chances are your problem is not serious enough to merit a legally imposed solution.
Important: File any lemon law complaints while you can! In New Jersey, for example, this is the first 18,000 miles - there is also a time limit!
- You can also try going through the Customer Arbitration Board.
- If all else fails, look through your Yellow Pages to find a lawyer *specializing* in lemon law problems. A good specialist lawyer will probably cheaply negotiate your way to a good settlement. If negotiation is not their first move, they are not the right lawyer. Negotiation yields better settlements than the courts, IMHO.
- West's Causes of Acction, Volume 11, contains tutorials and sample complaints for suing auto companies. Blashfield's Automobile Law contains information on car-related lawsuits. Nolo Press more information and publications.
Your chances of getting cash are slim. They will probably buy back your car, giving you credit towards another instead of cash. You will probably not get all of your money back (even as a credit). Most states impose a penalty on each mile of use before the first lemon-type complaint.
- If all else fails, or if there is an emergency or a serious issue which cannot be resolved through normal channels, call the state department of consumer affairs immediately. If they are unresponsive, or if the dealer has done something truly offensive, call the state Attorney General's Office. Do not be afraid to call your Congressman; many will help out to get your vote. If the State helps you to get justice, think about it during the next election - would you rather have "no big government interference with business" or "customer protection?"
Why are there so many bad dealers?
Blame it on greed, the worship of the dollar and small business, our culture, the automotive world's culture, or poor local small claims courts (or policies that you cannot sue for damages in small claims court). Zone officials are often too lenient on bad dealers, but let's be fair - they may not have all the power they need.
Also see the toyotadealerfrauds.com site - which is not associated with toyoland.