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Another Toyota recall?

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Posted: 3 pm ET

Do we have to keep having this conversation, Toyota?

I'm getting kind of sick of writing these words, but Toyota issued another large recall this week covering 740,000 cars in the U.S. alone. At issue are brake fluid leaks in 2005-2006 Avalon, 2004-2006 Highlander and Lexus RX330, and 2006 Lexus GS300, IS250 and IS350 models  that can cause the brake warning light to switch on and cause a gradual decline in braking performance.

Letters will be going out to owners of the affected vehicles in November, and owners will be able to bring their cars into any Toyota dealership for a free repair.

The 2006 Toyota Avalon is one of the cars affected by the latest Toyota recall

The 2006 Toyota Avalon is one of the cars affected by the latest Toyota recall

The recall didn't come as a result of action from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, but from a recall required under a Japanese law that prohibits cars from leaking brake fluid; the company extended the recall worldwide "to alleviate potential customer concerns and avoid confusion."

The company claims that the issue wasn't dangerous and that although the leaking brake fluid could cause brakes to feel "spongy" when pushed down, all affected cars should still come fully to a stop. And anyway, it's all because people didn't use special Toyota brake fluid containing lubricant polymers like they should have.

I guess it's good that Toyota is out front on this recall -- it didn't have to be dragged kicking and screaming into addressing the issue by the federal government. It seems to have learned from the $16.4 million fine it paid to the federal government for dragging its feet on recalling cars affected by sticky accelerator pedals.

But this recall is yet another reminder of how far the company's quality had fallen around 2006. Regardless of whether the brake fluid leakage was unsafe, spongy brakes are not a characteristic of a good, well-built car that Americans should buy. Designing a master brake cylinder that needs a special proprietary braking fluid to function correctly is just stupid.

More than anything, Toyota's behavior from that period reminds me of General Motors before it was brought low by bankruptcy: the excuses, the same willingness to accept mediocrity, the empty-sounding promises that this time it will be different, the constant delay in investigating safety issues, the irrational cost cutting leading to atrocious quality issues.

Maybe I'm being overly critical, but there's no way I would buy a Toyota right now. I know the company still has a ton of fans, and some of its models still perform really well in objective tests, but until Toyota shows its quality issues are behind it and stops coasting off good will from back when they were still setting the standard for automotive quality, I wouldn't trust them enough to spend $20,000-plus on one of their autos. It's that simple.

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