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Consumer Reports Says New Tundra Is Below Average

Toyota quality is slipping, and Consumer Reports says it’s due in large part to the new Tundra. Evidently, Consumer Reports has found that the new Tundra, specifically the V8 4×4 model, has “below average” reliability. Even more astounding, the new Camry V6 model was also found to have “below average” reliability. Because of the poor showing of these two new models, Consumer Reports has decided that they will no longer automatically recommend new Toyota models as they have in the past. Instead, Consumer Reports says that they will now wait for a full year of survey data before making a recommendation.

Before anyone decides to return their new Tundras, we’d like to clear the air.

1. Consumer Reports shouldn’t automatically recommend any model. Ever.

While it’s great that Consumer Reports had enough confidence in the Toyota design team to automatically recommend everything Toyota made, isn’t the idea of an “automatic recommendation” a little ridiculous? After all, an independent authority should at least test a vehicle before they recommend it. Consumer Reports saying that they’re no longer going to automatically recommend Toyota is a lot like saying “as of right now, we’ve decided to do our job”. That’s hardly news.

2. The survey data is extremely tainted.

According to the press release, the data that Consumer Reports used to conclude that the Tundra is “below average” was collected in the spring of this year. Amazingly, Toyota released the Tundra in the spring of this year. The question that we have for Consumer Reports – if anyone is listening – How exactly can you determine the reliability of a vehicle that’s only been out a couple of months? How many surveys could they possibly have collected – a few dozen? Whatever the number is, it’s certainly not enough to form an opinion. After all, didn’t they say in this same press release they’re going to wait for a full year of data before making a recommendation? At best, CR‘s declaration that the Tundra is “below average” is irresponsible.

3. Toyota is still a top rated brand.

Despite the headlines, Toyota still remains one of Consumer Reports top-rated brands. According to their latest Buyer’s Guide, Toyota is still one of the best brands overall coming in behind Honda/Acura and Subaru (Scion also placed higher than Toyota, but as we all know Scion is a Toyota product). Considering that Honda/Acura and Subaru have yet to make a real truck (anyone that thinks the “Ridgeline” is a real truck needs their head examined), Toyota is still the top ranked brand that offers a real truck.

4. Toyota is a victim of it’s own success.

As we’ve said, time and again, the bar is raised much higher for Toyota than just about any other vehicle manufacturer. The recent declaration that “Toyota quality is slipping” is a great example – two models indicate “below average” and the sky officially begins to fall. Compare Toyota’s situation to GM — according to Consumer Reports, the new Pontiac Solstice and Cadillac Escalade EXT were both 220% LESS RELIABLE than an average vehicle. Of course, recent headlines about the new CR Buyer’s Guide didn’t read “Two Popular GM Models Twice As Likely To Break As Anything Else.” Maybe that’s because, unlike GM, people expect Toyota will make a good vehicle…

Tundra Tailgate Design Flaw Update

In response to some questions about our last Tundra Tailgate post, we’ve done some more investigating, and we think we’ve figured out how why you should never drive with your Tundra’s tailgate unsecured.

1. The gas strut assist.

The Tundra’s tailgate is slam-proof because a gas strut (hidden inside the wall of the bed) reduces the effect weight of the tailgate as well as dampens any rapid movement. There is an un-intended consequence here: if the tailgate isn’t secured (i.e. in the closed position OR locked in the down position by the bed-extender or some weight) it may “levitate” at the removal angle.

2. Tailgate removal without tools.

Try this experiment: Lower your Tundra’s tailgate. Now, with it in the down position, “throw” the tailgate up into the air. When you get the force right, you’ll find that it will “hover” at about a 45 degree angle for a second or two. Keep in mind that 45 degrees is the angle you need to hold the tailgate at in order to remove it. In fact, hold the tailgate in this position and see just how easy it is for your to remove it manually. It needs just a slight lifting motion and it’s off the truck.

3. The right combination of bumps/motions will cause the tailgate to fall out.

With your tailgate hovering in the removal position, all it would take is a sudden motion that would cause your truck to lurch forward. For instance, when you hit a pot-hole, your truck first drops suddenly as it falls into the hole (thus raising your tailgate). When your truck hits the back side of the hole, your truck is not only suddenly pushed up but it is also pushed back. This backward force could be enough to dislodge the tailgate.

Toyota Tundra tailgate design flaw explained
Tundra tailgate could fall out under the right circumstance
How we think unsecured tailgates can fall off of the Toyota Tundra.

4. Toyota warns you not to drive tailgate down.

If our explanation isn’t enough, check out page 35 of your owner’s manual. That’s as good of a confirmation of a flaw as you’ll see from an auto manufacturer.

Bottom Line: Our previous tailgate warning was incorrect – you can drive with your tailgate down, but only if it’s locked into that position by the bed extender or the load you’re carrying. Otherwise, you should drive with the tailgate up. If it’s free to move, there’s a chance it will fall out. Thanks again to Glenn for bringing this to our attention. Also, while we’re on the subject, you should always lock your tailgate when you park your truck outside (the tailgate is just too easy to steal).

2007 Tundra Sales Projected To Exceed 200k

Based on our sales projections, Toyota will sell approximately 205k Tundra trucks this year. That’s more than a 60% increase in sales over 2006. Clearly, the Tundra has been an unmitigated success for Toyota.

Toyota’s success doesn’t show any signs of slowing down either. The upcoming 2008 model Tundra should sell better than the current model for a few reasons. First of all, Toyota has stated they intend to reduce the amount of standard equipment on the Tundra, especially on the base model. We expect the base model Tundra will be approximately $2000 less expensive, while the top-end models will maintain the same pricing. Reduced cost on the base model should translate into greater fleet sales of the new Tundra, a market that Toyota currently is not competitive in with the 2007 model.

Additionally, Toyota’s 2007 production management was less than perfect. Dealers were often given trucks that weren’t in demand and then required to sell those vehicles before they would be allocated better-selling models. Indeed, many a dealer we know received a glut of “fleet” type vehicles early in the model year even as demand for the popular Double Cab exceeded supply, to say nothing of CrewMax production holdups. Now that Toyota has some hard sales data, they will be able to improve their production mix.

Based on improved production mix and lower production costs, we expect Tundra sales in 2008 to exceed 250k units. Depending upon Toyota’s ability to reduce costs on their base model “fleet” configuration, it’s entirely possible that Tundra sales could hit 300k units, however new models from Ford and Dodge will certainly impact Toyota Tundra sales somewhat.

As we’ve said before, at these higher sales levels, it will be profitable for Toyota to produce both a Diesel Tundra and a Hybrid Tundra in the coming years. Let’s hope Tundras continue to sell well.

Decode Your Toyota Tundra’s VIN Number

Here’s what the letters and numbers in your Tundra’s VIN number represent:

FIRST THREE CHARACTERS:

The first three characters of your Tundra’s VIN number indicate where your truck was built.

5TF – Truck was manufactured at TMMTX
5TB – Truck was manufactured at TMMI

FOURTH CHARACTER:

The fourth character of your Tundra’s VIN indicates the body type.

J – Reg. Cab 2WD
K – Reg. Cab 4WD
L – Reg. Cab 2WD Long Bed
M – Reg. Cab 4WD Long Bed

R – Double Cab 2WD
S – Double Cab 2WD Long Bed
B – Double Cab 4WD
C – Double Cab 4WD Long Bed

E – CrewMax 2WD
D – CrewMax 4WD

FIFTH CHARACTER:

The fifth character of your Tundra’s VIN indicates the engine.

U = 4.0L V6
T = 4.7L V8
V = 5.7L V8

SIXTH, SEVENTH, & EIGHTH CHARACTERS:

The 6th, 7th, and 8th characters in the VIN indicate the trim level of the truck.

521 = Base
541 = SR5
581 = LTD

NINTH CHARACTER:

The 9th character in the VIN is used as a check digit.

TENTH CHARACTER:

The 10th character in your truck’s VIN is the model year. It’s either a number or letter, depending upon the decade. For 2007, it’s the number “7”. However, in 1997, it was a “V”.

ELEVENTH CHARACTER:

The 11th character indicates the final assembly point.

S – Indiana
X – Texas

LAST SIX CHARACTERS:

The last six numbers of the VIN are used by Toyota to uniquely identify your vehicle, sort of like a serial number. However, these numbers do not appear to be sequential or numerically significant. Toyota seems to have a unique system for numbering cars – they don’t seem to be marking them 000001, 000002, 000003, etc.

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Tundra Design Flaw: NEVER Drive Your Tundra Tailgate Down!

Glenn sent us this note, and we think every Tundra owner should know about this. Thanks Glenn for taking the time to share.

Here’s Glenn’s story:

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OUCH!!!

I put my tailgate down on my 07 Tundra Crewmax, and forgot about it being down, as I was involved in something that diverted my attention away from the open tailgate. I drove away not realizing it was still down. As I went down the street and over a bump in the road, I heard some banging, so I pulled over only to find my tailgate hanging from the support strap wires, and slapping against the back of the truck! Thankfully, I found a place to pull over immediately, and that I had all the windows, including the window facing the bed down, so I could hear it. Both tail light lenses are now damaged, but luckily, the tailgate itself and the bumper do not seem to be damaged much, except for minor paint damage on the inside of the tailgate. At least not that I can tell at this point.

Page 35 of the operators manual says, “Notice: Avoid driving with the tailgate open”. That is all it says. I had never seen this Notice before, but even if I had, I would not have expected that the entire tailgate could come off the hinges and bang against the back of the truck. I would have taken that Notice to mean that a rock could chip the paint of the tailgate if it were driven in the down position, or some damage could come to the tailgate if towing and turning with the gate down.

Doesn’t this sound like a serious design flaw? Well, not according to Toyota Customer service over the phone. First, there is this “Notice” (No actual warning of possible danger or damage), which tells you to avoid the operation, but does not tell you not to do it at all, or what could happen if you do. Second, there is no safety device that keeps the gate attached to the hinge point. Even a simple twist lock, a safetying pin, or a single securing screw would be beneficial, but none exists. If the safety straps were not connected, or failed and the tailgate were to fall off, it could bounce up into a car behind you and kill someone. If left to bang long enough, it is a real possibility that a failure of the straps could occur resulting in a slab of metal as a projectile at highway speeds.

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We don’t want to hear anyone saying “you shouldn’t drive with the tailgate down” either. This is something people do all the time (like when they’ve got an ATV or dirt bike in the bed) — besides, who hasn’t forgotten to close their tailgate at least once? How mad would you be if both your tail lenses were broken because you forgot to put the tailgate up?