Help: My Toyota RAV4 is a Lemon


Hi we bought a brand new Toyota RAV4 via lease in September this year, and since this time we had the car in the service department five times now.

Each time something different on the display shows up and they fobbed me off saying it was all okay.

This week the oil light comes on with low pressure and today they advise after having the car for three days testing they are replacing the transmission on Monday. I have lodged complaints with Toyota and their parent companies, have a lawyer looking over the lease but surely there is something I can do to get out of this.

The car is unroadworthy and quite frankly a lemon and how long before something else goes? We aren't satisfied with this purchase and need an out. I don't think they know its the transmission, and they're really just guessing. Meanwhile they're making our lives hell by holding us to ransom. Can you advise? - Lee


I'm sorry to hear that you're in this position, Lee. It's very frustrating. I don't think asking the lawyer to go over the lease is going to help. The vehicle needs to function as advertised - as in, be free of defects. Australian consumer laws should protect you adequately here. Unfortunately, however, they don't.

I recently completed a report on the sad state of Australian lemon laws >> which you might like to brush up on, simply to understand the rules of the game you're playing right now.

It sounds to me as if the dealership is trying to help you - but like a lot of dealerships, their core business is selling new cars, not keeping existing customers happy. It's stupid, and it shouldn't be this way, but the fact of the matter is that dealerships devote 99% of their effort to selling (cars, parts, service - whatever) and a very small proportion of their resources are in fact devoted to helping people in your situation. More on why dealerships are bad at keeping customers happy >>

Fobbing you off is a classic dealership tactic - it's insulting because the implication is that you - the customer - are an idiot. Like: nah, that's not a problem, they're all this way. To be fair, however, Toyota is usually pretty good at this stuff, and diagnosing the problem might actually be quite difficult. (However, I cannot understand how a transmission can make the low engine oil light activate itself... Seems unlikely.)

Toyota - the company and also the dealership - should take solving your problem more seriously. They have invested millions upon millions in marketing the concept of their 'legendary' reliability - and experiences like yours are ones they should try very hard not to have publicised. (In fact, Toyota does not have legendary reliability - it has legendary marketing... Toyota's reliability is about average for a leading Japanese carmaker - meaning good, but not legendary.)

The dealership could also just be incompetent on the servicing front - that's quite common, too. There is absolutely no reason why you should not take this opportunity to change dealers - provided that's not a geographic impossibility. You're certainly not locked in to getting the problem resolved at the dealership from which you purchased the vehicle.

I'd frankly tell them that this is their last opportunity to fix the problem. If it's still problematic after that I would call talkback radio (5AA in your neck of the woods) and tell them about your problem, and also make contact with Today Tonight - they love a good lemon car story. Companies like Toyota are far more terrified of criticism in the media than they are of any consumer law-based threats (because their lawyers are bigger than yours, basically). However, they are acutely aware that stories like these cost them sales and undo millions in paid advertising. Telling them nicely you intend to prosecute your problem in the media is a far more tangible piece of leverage than using the word 'lawyer'.

All companies like Toyota monitor the media incessantly so that they remain abreast of what is being said about them publicly. They pay specialist agencies quite handsome fees to do it for them.

You might be amazed how quickly the problem gets resolved if you criticise them in the media. Bear in mind that if you criticise the company on air, you're safe from prosecution for defamation as long as you don't mention individuals (people). Companies and products (like cars) cannot sue you for defamation but people can - so don't defame the service manager. You can, however, be as critical as you like about Toyota or the dealership generally or the vehicle.

I'll pass your details on to a senior executive at Toyota and see if they can't resolve your problem before it goes any more ballistic.

I hope this helps.