My Toyota Sienna needs your help

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By Christopher Elliott

Philip Boutelle’s minivan is a money pit and Toyota doesn’t seem to care, even though it issued a limited recall. Can this car be saved?

Question

My wife and I purchased a 2008 Toyota Sienna used from a dealer in her hometown in central California, a dealer where her family has purchased numerous cars over the years.

A few months ago, the oil light flickered while driving. I pulled over when it was safe and got the car towed. A pressurized oil hose had burst, and cost me just under $500 to fix, plus about $100 to tow. I contacted Toyota of America to ask why an oil hose would failed on a five-year-old van, and if the repair cost would be covered under my warranty.

I was turned down, allegedly because I didn’t service my vehicle at the dealer, even though I had complete service records from my regular mechanic from the day I brought the car home from the dealer.

The costly consequence

When I drove the van out of the shop, I heard a noise, and the mechanic identified it as “internal engine noise” caused by the sudden loss of oil from the burst oil hose. My local dealer mechanic has diagnosed it as the lifters, with a repair cost of $5,700, plus the $250 diagnosis.

I again asked Toyota to help defray this cost and was again denied. As far as the effectiveness of the repair, the service manager said that he didn’t think there was lower engine damage but that we would never know unless there was actually a problem in the future, or we paid another large sum for a full engine teardown.

I researched this problem and discovered that Toyota had a limited service campaign — essentially, a limited recall — involving the hose. I asked my local dealership if it would cover the repairs and it turned me down without much discussion, and apparently no room for appeal. Can you help me? — Philip Boutelle, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Answer

It sounds as if you bought something of a lemon from your Toyota dealership, which is unusual. Toyota has a reputation for selling cars that work, so when one of its vehicles doesn’t, that’s noteworthy. Sticking you with the repair bill for a defect is highly unusual and very un-Toyota-like, to coin a term.

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Don’t look now, but it looks like the warranty on your Sienna just expired. The sample warranty from the latest Sienna model says the longest amount of coverage is 60 months, which covers your engine, transmission and transaxle, drive system, seatbelts and airbags. I’m no mechanic, but it doesn’t look like the oil hose would even be covered.

The limited service campaing is a limited service campaign. In other words, the manufacturer would contact you if your Sienna was affected. Toyota had your contact information, but didn’t contact you, so it’s safe to assume that your van wasn’t affected.

Case closed? Not quite. You can still appeal this decision to someone at a higher level at Toyota. I list the names, numbers and email addresses on my site. I suggested you contact one of them, and you sent Toyota’s executives a firm but polite email and also mentioned that you were working with me on the case. (Here’s our guide to fixing your consumer problem.)

In response, Toyota offered you $1,000 towards future service, or $2,500 towards a new Toyota. You took the check.

Did Toyota offer Philip Boutelle enough compensation?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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