Are Toyotas Safe?
September 18, 2010 9:12 AM   Subscribe

In light of last year's extensive recalls and "runaway vehicle" issues, is it safe to buy a new Toyota?

I'm in the market for a new car and I've been looking at getting a Toyota Highlander or RAV4. They look like great vehicles and I'm sure one of them would meet my needs well. But I'm still a little unsure about reliability, after all of the recalls last year. Consumer Reports has temporarily rescinded their "Recommend" rating from the two vehicles because of the issue.

What do you guys think? Is it enough of an issue to keep me from purchasing a Toyota? Unfortunately a "wait and see" approach isn't really going to work in this case. We're looking at getting a new vehicle to replace an older car with extensive electrical problems, and we can't really go without a working car for very long.
posted by DMan to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
From what I remember reading, neither of the models you mention were involved in the recall.

If you like the car, buy the car.

I distrust Consumer Reports in general these days — they seem wont to pull their recommendations on the slightest whim, and never restore them.

If you’re still not sold, go with the Honda equivalents (the CR-V and the Pilot, I believe). Just don’t buy American, because that’s where the truly unreliable cars come from these days.
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2010

I bought a Toyota recently, after doing research on Safer Car.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2010

Wow, I won't even get into spitefulcrow's comment except to say that everything in it is wrong.

The recall information is here, and yes, includes the Highlander and the RAV4.

Here's my take - are the cars safe? Yeah, probably. In fact, my pet theory is that Toyota's relative ubiquitousness (8.97 million in 2008) combined with their aging average buyer (46.6), means that more drivers are simply confusing "stuck throttle" with "I forgot to remove my foot in a panic situation". Add to that the fact that modern brakes can overpower an engine operating at full throttle in all situations, and... well, it's just not that big a deal if you're an attentive driver. Lastly, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of vehicles here. And there have been, what, a handful of incidents? Even granting that dozens have occurred, we're talking about a statistically improbable event.

So yeah, buy away. But do yourself a favor and check out Subaru's and Ford's offerings. Toyota and Honda aren't the only games in town any more.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:51 AM on September 18, 2010

The Toyota unintended acceleration issue was a media frenzy caused by gullible press, publicity seeking politicians and personal injury lawyers who smelled blood. It's a repeat of the Audi unintended acceleration issue from the 1980s, where no mechanical problems were ultimately found, and the cause was due to driver error.

Here's a Popular Mechanics article from around the time of the media frenzy, discussing the engineering of the accelerator:

Here's a recent article discussing preliminary findings:

Realistically, if you're thinking about buying a Toyota, this should not be an issue.
posted by chengjih at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think the danger was ever very high. Yes, some accidents did happen and some people did die. One article I just found suggested that 19 people had died in the US "in recent years" in accidents apparently related to the accelerator pedal problem. That's 19 too many, but keep it in perspective; the recall covered 8 models over 4 model years, and Toyota sold almost 150,000 Rav4's in the U.S. in 2009 alone. The scandal was stoked by Detroit in hopes of recapturing market, not because there was any terrible danger.

If you want to check out a particular vehicle, this might be helpful:

From Toyota's website:

Which models are involved in the sticking accelerator pedal recall/stop sale?
Toyota’s accelerator pedal recall and suspension of sales is confined to the following Toyota Division vehicles:

• Certain 2009-2010 RAV4*,
• Certain 2009-2010 Corolla*,
• 2009-2010 Matrix,
• 2005-2010 Avalon,
• Certain 2007-2010 Camry*,
• Certain 2010 Highlander*,
• 2007-2010 Tundra,
• 2008-2010 Sequoia

*Highlander hybrids and Camry hybrids are not involved in this action and will remain for sale. Further, Camry, RAV 4, Corolla and Highlander vehicles with VINs that begin with "J" are not involved.

posted by jon1270 at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2010

If you have CR, you should be able to pull their reliability reports directly. I wouldn't be worried about it.

Just don’t buy American, because that’s where the truly unreliable cars come from these days.

On the one hand, Ford's reliability is fine. Not as stellar as Toyota or Honda, but maybe better than Nissan and Subaru, or at least in the ballpark.

On the other hand, "buying American" doesn't really mean much anymore as all the really large makes are fully internationalized. You can buy Toyotas in Japan that were made in the US, and you could buy Hondas in the US that were built in the UK, and you could buy Pontiacs in the US that were built in Australia.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2010

Are you worried about the accelerator pedal specifically or "reliability" in general? In general, Toyotas continue to be among the most reliable cars and trucks ever made.

(Even if you think the pedal issues were not driver error (I think they were), a contrarian might argue that Toyota will give quality issues even more focus in response and therefore work to the benefit of reliability.)
posted by dzot at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2010

It will be really easy for any Toyota dealer to tell if the specific vehicle you're looking at was involved in the recall and if all of the recall repairs have been done. I would almost expect that just about any salesperson (Toyota dealer or not) will mention something about it unprompted. If the vehicle you're looking at isn't at a Toyota dealer, you can call any Toyota dealer with the VIN and they should be able to give you that information (and there is probably a number on Toyota's website somewhere that will let you do the same).

Also, keep in mind that Toyota is generally VERY paranoid about safety and reliability. They are, in my experience, faster to hit the "recall button" than any other car company and they will repair any vehicle that they think might have any chance of having a manufacturing or design defect.

As a rule, I would say that when hear about a recall from Toyota, it is likely at least half as bad as it sounds. With GM, the problem is probably at least twice as bad as it sounds.
posted by VTX at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2010

The Toyota unintended acceleration issue was a media frenzy caused by gullible press, publicity seeking politicians and personal injury lawyers who smelled blood.
Well, there was an actual problem involving accelerators getting stuck on floor mats. That was fixed But other then that, most of it was hysteria. People would press the accelerator and think it was the gas. Then they'd panic because of what they'd been hearing on TV.

Seriously if you look at the incident reports, they massively spike on one particular month, decline by half the next month and so on.

If there was really a problem with the electronics, why would it only happen on one month and then pretty much go away?
posted by delmoi at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2010

I think you need to read this WSJ article. The recalls were a purely PR move, as all the subsequent investigations have not been able to find any defects. The only death that has not been linked to driver error was the case of the California Highway Patrol officer, and in that case it was an all-weather floor mat from a different vehicle that had been placed on top of the car's own carpeted floor mats (i.e. not anything Toyota-related) that caused the pedal to become stuck. In all the rest of the cases, the evidence shows that the drivers were not braking when they claimed to be or they were slamming the wrong pedal -- in other words, panic and confusion.

If there were really defects, we'd expect to see reports of them in other countries where Toyotas are sold -- which hasn't happened -- and we'd expect to see the drivers represented by a random slice of the driving public, young to old -- which also hasn't happened. The median age of these reports is 60, with the highest number reported among the ranges 61-70 and 71-80.

To not buy a Toyota because of the recall is buying into a huge pile of lies, fear, and misinformation.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:19 AM on September 18, 2010

I agree the Toyota's are probably safe, or as safe as almost any good new car - the Prius thing was driver error, and the other ones seem in line with what all the main car manufacturers deal with.

I was recently shopping for a car and looked at a Matrix, and the single (arguably insignificant) detail which turned me against it was the little hatchcover over the spare tire was apparently made of the same corrugated crap that real estate agents make their signs from. It wasn't the right car for me for other reasons, but I would seriously look at any Toyota now and think not so much about safety but about overall build quality, especially those places where corners could be cut. In other words, it might be too early to discern, but Toyota may have jumped the shark.
posted by Rumple at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2010

Yes there was a specific problem with the accelerator pedal assembly in certain models. No there isn't evidence that there were more sudden acceleration incidents in those models than in cars in general. There are hundreds of millions of cars on the road, so a few dozen crashes involving sudden acceleration are going to happen for each model no matter what. Toyota's case just got way more publicized due to Toyota's poor handling of the situation, its previous reputation as magically reliable, and US politicians who wanted to make foreign car makers look bad.
posted by miyabo at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2010

I just drove 27,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) around Australia in 4 months and did nothing to the car but change the oil, once. I did a couple of thousand k's on rough, corrugated tracks in the outback.

The car never missed a beat. Toyota rules.
posted by autocol at 4:32 PM on September 18, 2010

I have a week old 2010 Rav4. I briefly considered the same concern you're voicing. But then I thought: given the number of Toyotas on the road, if this were really a thing, there would be more ... things. Having said that, if you're a nervous nelly type, don't get one - because I think if every time you get in your car you're worried that it isn't safe, then you're likely to do something that makes it actually unsafe, even if it isn't. If you aren't going to think about it for a second after you buy it, buy away! Anyway, happy new Toyota owner here.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:22 PM on September 18, 2010

I don't know where it's going yet, but check out the news from this week relating to "Dimitrios Biller" (former Toyota counsel turned whistleblower).

Going to be watching this to see what's in his "four boxes of documents," because we are also considering buying a new Toyota soon.
posted by galadriel at 9:01 PM on September 18, 2010

I could ramble on about what might or might not have led to this SUA problem but to get to the point...

1. Buy a manual (transmission) car.

2. Buy a car with a key ignition (though these sometimes just tell the computer to switch off, and if the computer isn't listening ...).

3. Know the difference between the brake pedal and accellerator, and use them for their intended purposes only.

4. Buy a lottery ticket - you have a better chance of winning than having an SUA problem.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:35 PM on September 19, 2010

« Older Where to find a Dutch weather house?   |   I drink too much, and I also drink once a week.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.