Why Toyota is losing its reputation for quality and reliability

Here’s a post from the “I wish I’d noticed this before I bought the car” file.

Under the hood on the driver’s side of my new 2013 Toyota RAV4 is one of the car’s computers, or engine control modules (ECM). It’s mounted on a bracket at an odd angle next to one of the relay boxes. Mine is labeled “Denso Engine Control” and is made in Japan. Encased in an a elements-resisting metallic case, you can’t miss it (although I did when I was shopping for the car). On the back (firewall side) of the ECM are two serious-looking (that is, large) electrical connectors that I assume deliver sensor input and transport engine control commands to the rest of the digital controls in the car.

Obviously this is a pretty important component, wouldn’t you agree? And it needs to be protected from the elements, especially the kinds of things that create electrical gremlins in circuitry — moisture, grime and exposure. Take a look at this photo, shot looking down into the top of the ECM with the hood open. The wiring from the bus connector is completely exposed. Any schnizz from the road that gets into the engine compartment is going to go directly into this connector.

Wiring harness in 2013 Toyota RAV4 exposed to elements — click to enlarge

So the question is, how could Toyota design, engineer and build for customer delivery a connector that exposes the top of the wiring harness of a digital computer to the elements? The answer is obvious: it was done cheaply. A few cents of electrical tape and a few seconds of assembly time are all that’s needed to protect this crucial component and improve reliability and dependability. Modern Toyotas seem to be built like 1980s GM cars — they could be well-built, but aren’t because of  “value engineering” in design and manufacturing. The RAV4 isn’t inexpensive — but now we have to wonder what else was done to make it cheap.

Anyway, you can fix this yourself without getting your hands dirty. Open the hood, apply some black electrical tape to the gaping hole at the top of the ECM connector and you’re done. Here’s a shot of mine after 30 seconds of effort.

An easy fix -- click to enlarge
An easy fix — click to enlarge






4 responses to “Why Toyota is losing its reputation for quality and reliability”

  1. Mark D. Avatar
    Mark D.

    I was loyal to Toyota. I had a 92 Tacoma that ran for ever. I only needed to replace brakes, exhaust and fluids and tires. My last truck was a 2003 Tacoma 4×4. I had it until 2014. 65,000 mi. Looked and ran great, but my frame rotted out. I was told to take it home and do not drive it. I had to sell it for parts. It had a recall for the frame 2 yrs. before and I took it in to be treated. They said it was in fine condition and did not need the treatment. When it failed, they would not replace it. I went all the way to the corporate office in CA. Nothing. I was not prepared to buy another car. I think the frame was recycled steel. I went to an attorney and he said it would cost more than it was worth.

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      I hear you, Mark.

      I finally sold my RAV4 — no more Toyotas for me.

  2. Evan Avatar

    Toyota began cutting costs where they believed the customer wasn’t paying any attention in the late 90’s. It has only seemed to get worse with time.

    In my case, I didn’t come from a Toyota family per se, my father being very much a Ford man, with a secondary love for Mopar. My grandparents purchased a 1992 Camry LE V6 new in January of ’92. And for a long time that was the only one in the family. My dad did own a 1985 Toyota pickup at one point and my Grandfather a 1983 pickup. Both pickups were stick and took whatever you could dish out. My grandfather drove the ’83 to 409,000 miles.

    I bought the Camry in 2005 from my grandparents with 84,000 miles on it since they bought it 13 years prior. It was dark emerald green with a gray interior. I drove it up until last January, when it’s second power steering pump failed on the highway, basically causing it to self destruct. The car was high quality though. Several fender benders hadn’t phased it, and there was really only visible damage from one of them. The interior looked amazing and the body was in decent shape for 25 years old. It had 211k on it and I will probably regard it as the best car I have ever owned in my life forever. Sadly, those days are long gone for Toyota.

    Granted, I will always give credit where it is due. Toyota has burned up sales charts more and more since that 1992 Camry was produced, they have had amazing success and their brands are highly regarded in the United States as well as other parts of the world. Toyota does a great job of appealing to mainstream buyers as well, and it shows through their huge market share. However, I would have to express disappointment in a lot of their products as of late as many people in my family do now own them. I would say really beginning with the 1997 Camry and 1998 Corolla, Toyota began a relentless stream of decontenting that has led to cars which in our present day, while nice looking have gotten very cheap.

    My sister has a 2013 Corolla. The bumpers are some of the cheapest I have ever seen, and I notice it on many other models. $40,000 Sienna XLE with bumpers that just clip on to the steel  and pop off with the slightest bump. They have gotten so cheap they can’t invest in a hook off the bumper into the wheel well which should be reinforced with a screw. This I see on Camrys, Corollas, Yaris, Rav4, Etc. Side of the bumper just hangs off the car because it was made cheaply to begin with.

    I noticed also that their interior door panels are a far cry from what they used to be. Hollow plastic that cracks easily which is reminiscent of the 2004 Malibu a friend owned. The plastic is under the fabric of the door panel and just cracks, eventually causing wear and blemish to fabric. The carpets are cheap as well and the engine bays now all look very economic to me, possibly with the exception of the Avalon. 

    Even in my cost-cutter 1999 XLE V6 Camry, the material quality and fit and finish are seriously superior to a vast number of Toyota models to date. And even that has its gripes, like the gen4 dash clock that they passed on putting a screw into to hold it up in the dash. I have to be careful cleaning it or setting the time otherwise it just pops out and falls into the dash. I have to take the bezel off around the instrument cluster to put it back in place.

    I do like Toyotas, maybe more of what they used to be, but I see some strange parallels with GM. As if they are the GM of Japan. Time will tell if they get even chintzier than they already have.

  3. […] a possibly similar corner-cutting, the estimable yoByoT found his 2013 Toyota missing several pennies worth of electrical tape from a key computer component under the hood. Beginning of the end for Toyota? Well, certainly not […]

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