Disappearing power steering fault on a Toyota aygo
May 2, 2012 4:08 AM   Subscribe

Power steering failure, AA guy said it was the alternator, dealership (where it's under warranty) claim they can find nothing wrong with the alternator or any aspect of the power steering. Warranty expires next month. What now.

2006 Toyota Aygo with manual transmission, electrical power steering, and a certified toyota extended warranty. Last night, as I slowed down to turn the corner at the bottom of my street, there was a god-awful squealing sound like a tortured pig and the power steering suddenly failed. I managed to fight it back around the block and in to my driveway. The AA guy came today to have a look - checked the PS belt etc., all was fine, checked the charge in the battery and said it was quite low. There was also an electric-y burning smell. He charged the battery for 20 minutes and then followed me to the dealership. He said that it's something he's seen before on Aygos and the other two cars that it's identical to, the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107.

The service department just called to tell me that there's absolutely no problem that they can find and just hemmed and hawed when I asked how that could be possible when the power steering failed spectacularly less than 12 hours before. They were also quite clear that if it failed again outside of the warranty, or if it failed again within the warranty and they couldn't find a fault, that I was out of luck.

What on earth do I do now? I'm terrified to drive the thing knowing it might fail again - what if it fails when I'm going 70 on the motorway? What if they're just stalling and being dishonest so they don't have to repair it under the warranty? Halp please?
posted by cilantro to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Have you considered finding another dealership to take it to? At least in the States, your warranty is honored regardless of whether the service department doing the work is at the same dealership from which you purchased the car.
posted by indubitable at 5:19 AM on May 2, 2012

I would also search for a Service Bulletin (as they are called in the US) on the specific problem with this car & year. I would also search Toyota owners forums to see if others had similar problems.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:34 AM on May 2, 2012

I had a problem with a Toyota that our dealer pretended wasn't a problem and it went on for years. I ended up calling Toyota Corporate Offices and they got me set up with another dealer who fixed the problem immediately (and apologized profusely). Good luck.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:40 AM on May 2, 2012

Is there another dealership you could take it to even if it is an hour or two away? They might be more helpful and having the problem documented in a couple places can't hurt. Start keeping a log of what happened; who you talked to; when you talked to them and what they said. Immediately start escalating the issue up the responsibility chain starting with the service manager then the dealership manager and Toyota's customer service.

It's scary but if it was me I'd be out there driving it as much as I could trying to replicate the problem. Maybe a few hours in an empty parking lot where you have lots of run off room.

Also if it does fail again don't let the auto club charge the battery. Instead have the disabled car towed to the dealership.
posted by Mitheral at 5:48 AM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would start by calling the manager at the Toyota dealer you went to (assuming that's not who you spoke to already) - explain that there can't be nothing wrong with the car, given what you experienced, and ask for a second, more thorough check.

If they won't take a second look, escalate to the Toyota UK customer services and/or take the car to a different Toyota dealer.
If they take a second look and still can't/won't find anything, consider taking the car to an independant mechanic for an inspection - this will presumably cost you some money but a) you can prove to Toyota that something is wrong, and b) I would then ask the dealer and/or Toyota customer services for a refund of the mechanic's inspection fee since you had to go out of your way to get what you were entitled to in the first place.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:18 AM on May 2, 2012

what if it fails when I'm going 70 on the motorway?

If it's any consolation, a PS failure at high speed is generally *less* of a problem. You never have to turn the wheel much at 70.

Take the AA guy's alternator suggestion with a grain of salt. Bad alternators do cause batteries to go dead, but a low charge on the battery does not point directly to a bad alternator. Also, while I'm not familiar with the Aygo, it seems unlikely that an electric PS unit would even have a belt, so I'm skeptical that he checked it.

Intermittent electrical faults are hard to track down if the mechanic can't reproduce the problem; the dealer isn't necessarily being dishonest there. What they can do is look for service bulletins (as R. Mutt suggested) which describe problems that have commonly been observed in particular models. They should also have scanned for error codes. If there's no error code, no service bulletin, no visually evident telltale signs and the problem can't be reproduced, they're kind of stuck. But bad dealerships and bad mechanics are certainly out there. The suggestion to take it to another dealer is worth considering.
posted by jon1270 at 6:24 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it has electric power steering, and you heard a squeal right at the same time as the power steering failed to function, then I would assume that the alternator belt was slipping during that time. Which means potentially a couple of things:

1- The belt is just worn out, and slipped during a time of high electrical usage. (The alternator becomes harder to spin when it is asked to produce more power.) Regardless, it is probably a good time to change that belt.

2- The power steering motor is failing intermittently, and it fails by drawing too much power.

3- The alternator is failing, and the battery is not being charged fully. This is especially possible given that the failure happened after a long highway run. Sometimes alternators fail in a way that they can produce power at idle, but fail to produce power at higher speeds. So, after your highway run, the battery was practically flat and when you asked for a lot of power by using the power steering, the alternator became too hard to spin and slipped on its belt.

(On my car with electric power steering, the specs say that the power steering motor can draw up to 78 amps. The alternator is only rated at 90 amps, so in order to work, it must be drawing on some of the battery's reserves when it is in use.)

what if it fails when I'm going 70 on the motorway?

It seems backwards, but you don't really need power steering on the highway. Many times, power steering systems actually put some reverse-assist onto the system at that time to make the wheel less easy to turn. So don't worry about that. Just remember (as we should always be doing) to keep a good grip on the wheel when turning, in case you need to power through a turn.
posted by gjc at 6:36 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

These guys might be know more about the issue:


It might be the ECU:


The power steering seems to be a somewhat common issue on those cars.
posted by krisak at 6:58 AM on May 2, 2012

I have seen where the alternator and battery were good but some crud had built up on the battery leads so the the full current was not getting to the battery. If the leads were cleaned, or wiggled just a bit to check that they were tight, it could have fixed the problem. I would recommend getting a voltmeter and testing the voltage of the battery periodically, maybe logging the mileage and voltage to see if it is getting a proper charge. And like mentioned above, you might want to note the battery voltage before and after a highway trip to see if speed is a factor for the alternator.
posted by Yorrick at 7:54 AM on May 2, 2012

Thanks for the answers so far! One thing that might matter is that I don't drive very often (maybe once every 3-4 days at most) and then usually for less than 10 miles round-trip at low speeds. Could it be that the battery is discharging a bit while it sits around and then not getting charged back up enough to power everything that needs power when I set off again? The power steering failure happened less than 100 yards from my house, after just a few seconds of driving, when I hadn't driven it at all for nearly five days.
posted by cilantro at 8:26 AM on May 2, 2012

Is it still the original battery? At six years old, it could be beginning to fail.
posted by jon1270 at 8:41 AM on May 2, 2012

Just to soothe some general fears, my power steering on my ancient Honda went out, they wanted $700 to fix, I told them to just skip it, because while it does take a little more work, it's perfectly driveable, and I don't even notice at high speeds. The only time I miss it is parking. So, while you're unsure about it, I'd just try to avoid parking it in any tight spaces if at all possible.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:17 AM on May 2, 2012

Your driving habits could most definately lead to a dead battery. That style of short trip driving is especially hard on cars also (although if any can take it I would say a Toyota aygo (yaris here in the states I believe). The car needs to be run at higher than idle speed for a while (10-15 minutes) to charge up a battery adequately. I had a 5 series BMW that had similair problems from similair use-i just hooked up a charge every couple of weeks overnight. At six years old, I would just replace the battery, as an old battery with corroded connections might be the source of your problems. I find it hard to believe though that the dealership hasn't pointed this out since batteries are not covered by the warranty anyway and the dealer markup on them is huge (I don't know what you have there but a battery from sears/autozone/checker/o'reillys is about half the price and just as good) and if you can change a light bulb chances are good you can change a battery. I would take it to an independant shop or different dealership and have them look at it. Chances are pretty good you won't actually lose steering control, just the power assist that makes it easy. However if you do have a bad alternator you might get halfway there and have a car that won't start up again (the car will be fine, it will just need a new alternator after getting towed to the garage).
posted by bartonlong at 10:12 AM on May 2, 2012

I had the same thing happen to me ( on my older Chrysler) and it was indeed the belt, and after that first time something must have been loose because it would periodically come off again.

So if it's really not the alternator, maybe the belt just slipped, and then went back into place.
posted by catatethebird at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2012

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