Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a 2004 Toyota Sienna XLE with 28,000 miles. Last month while camping with our family of five, the big automatic sliding door on the right side of the car stopped working. We manually shut the door and did not open it again until we got home. Once home, my 5-year-old pushed the button to open that door, and the door fell off the car. Yep. Fell off the side of the car. It literally was hanging by part of one of the upper hinges. We tied it to the car and took it in to the dealer for repair. We paid for the repair and were happy to have our car back in working order again -- until last week, when the other door did the exact same thing. So I called Toyota to see if there had been some sort of recall or problem with Toyota minivans that we should be aware of, and told them our tale. The guy at the customer-service line told me that he had heard of other minivans with similar problems, but no, there was no recall, just a "TSB" regarding door-hinge problems. We took the car back to the dealer, and he told us that Toyota will pay for the parts for the second door, but he wants us to pay for the labor, which is expensive! I think the fact that both doors fell off within one month means the car has a problem independent of our usage. I've already paid to repair one door; I'd like Toyota to pay to repair the other door. BUT I am finding it difficult to find anyone at Toyota who can help us. The customer-service flunkies say there is no one else to talk to. A call to the regional offices in San Ramon, Calif., got me redirected back to the aforementioned customer-service office. I have loved this minivan up until this point, and now I'm quickly becoming disillusioned with Toyota. Do you have any advice on how I could better handle this and get Toyota to pay to fix my car? The car is only three years old, and the doors have fallen off! -- Kate
TOM: Well, I'd suggest you write to a couple of newspaper columnists and see if you can get them to print your letter, Kate.
RAY: Yeah. I can't imagine that Toyota would want to squander its worldwide reputation for quality over a couple of under-designed door hinges. I mean, do you think Toyota wants the word out that its doors are falling off after 28,000 miles?
TOM: They'll probably read your letter and be so embarrassed that they'll come to you and ask if they can please fix it, at no charge, right away.
RAY: They may even worry that you might write back to us and report some further delay on their part, and that we might print that letter, too.
TOM: Even though I'm not aware of a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) on this, I'm guessing that this was a flaw in some 2004 Siennas. That was the first year for the current Sienna design, so you were one of the guinea pigs.
RAY: They probably beefed up the design for those hinges at some point, because, frankly, we haven't seen this in the shop before.
TOM: So when they beg you to let them fix it, make sure you get the upgraded hinges. If you just get yours replaced with the same old ones, your doors will fall off again in another 28,000 miles. And you'll have to write to us again.
RAY: Good luck, Kate! Let us know how it all turns out.