Toyota’s strong brand is built on three pillars; Quality, durability, and reliability. Over the past year, Toyota has struggled to manage two widespread issues. One is the Toyota fuel pump recall affecting millions of owners. The second is a campaign undertaken by Toyota to address the peeling paint defect on two colors of white the company used on many different models.
Toyota's Paint Defect and Fuel Pump Recall Efforts
Torque News has covered each problem, and both topics are among our top-viewed by readers. Each also has pages of comments from owners expressing frustration and looking for help from fellow owners. Some loyal owners are even going so far as to say they have had enough of this brand and won’t buy another Toyota or Lexus. One of our readers posted a detailed overview of the paint problem and ended his post by saying, “I now have more than two sq ft of bare metal on my Prius. This is my 5th & last Toyota.” Many owners struggling with the fuel pump recall report extended waits to get their car back. One Torque News reader commented, “Been waiting three months. Car in the dealership. Have a rental. Never will buy a Toyota again.”
TrueCar Expert Opinion
While Toyota is doing its usual impressive job of trying to help the many affected owners, we wondered if the problem may result in long-term damage to Toyota’s reputation. To find out, we reached out to two experts. The first is Nick Woolard, Director of OEM Analytics at TrueCar. He is also an expert on Toyota’s reliability legacy, having worked with Toyota for a decade as an analyst. We asked Mr. Woolard if Toyota’s reputation may be damaged, and if he felt that the resale value of these vehicles will be impacted. Mr. Woolard was clear with his answer, saying, “Like all brands, Toyota has recalls. Vehicles are complex machines. Consumers generally take a long-term view on a brand to assess durability and quality; given that lens, Toyota remains among the top brands across multiple measures."
Consumer Reports Expert Opinion
Our go-to source for many topics is Consumer Reports. When it comes to vehicle owner satisfaction and reliability, our opinion is that Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing, is a top expert. Mr. Fisher has spent two decades involved with vehicle testing and participates in the CR reliability survey data collection and reporting. He has also been a development engineer for automakers. Our request for comment evolved into a conversation and Mr. Fisher helped us understand Toyota’s reliability reputation more clearly.
Mr. Fisher feels that Toyota’s legacy will not be tarnished by these two problems and he backed that up with some history and some insight. First, he explained that the two issues are not related. From his point of view, and CR’s, reliability and quality are separate things. Fisher told us that CR makes a concerted effort to separate the two topics. Quality is more subjective. It can be a fit and finish observation, a feeling one gets from a vehicle, and the impressions during a test drive. All of those are reported by CR in its road tests and customer satisfaction scores. Mr. Fisher told Torque News that as bad as the paint probem is, it is important to realize that Toyota didn’t have to do anything. The company opted to help owners. He says that in his experience this is unusual. Most automakers would not have done so.
Exactly What Is Reliability?
With regard to the massive fuel pump recall, Mr. Fisher also gave us a clear picture of the way reliability is viewed by CR. In its surveys, CR asks owners if their vehicle was the subject of a recall. A “yes” answer does not get recorded as a reliability problem. “We go further if the initial answer is yes,” said Fisher. “We ask a series of follow-up questions. We want to find out if the owner had any problem with their vehicle related to the underlying cause of the recall.” Fisher also added, “Recalls can be a good thing. Some automakers try to avoid addressing problems. We feel Toyota is the opposite. They want to have these cars in for an evaluation and fix all the ones that need attention.”
As Mr. Woolard said, “All manufacturers have recalls.” General Motors made headlines recently by trying to avoid a recall related to airbags. GM lost that appeal. NHTSA insisted it be conducted. Hyundai made headlines recently by being fined millions for avoiding an engine failure recall. By contrast, Toyota is pulling in millions of vehicles to inspect fuel pumps. Many of which are running just fine. Toyota is also trying to resolve a paint defect unrelated to safety as best it can. The paint program is not Toyota’s first rodeo. In the past, Toyota twice paid for full frame replacements on thousands of out-of-warranty trucks and SUVs when the frames suffered premature corrosion.
Toyota's Reputation - Our Conclusion
In the short term, Toyota is taking it on the chin regarding these two large, high-profile issues. However, both Mr. Fisher and Mr. Woolard agree that Toyota is not running from its problems, but rather, trying to help as many customers as it can in the best way possible. Will owners of Toyota cars, crossovers, and trucks with paint and fuel pump problems going to have this same big-picture view after the issues are resolved? Time will tell. Our take is that Toyota won’t be bumped off the reliability awards podium any time soon.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin