2008 Toyota Highlander Rip-Off
This story has a happy ending. Read the update at the bottom for the conclusion.
The recall was one thing. I could deal with that because Toyota behaved professionally. However, this week has been a different story as the service department at my Toyota dealership has decided to show themselves for the stereotype they’ve always been known for. A bunch of gouging, rude, monopolistic professional con artists. I paid 49,000 dollars for this car, cash – which I’m very likely never to do again and which I’m embarrassed to admit to after the treatment I got this past week. I realized I was paying a high price for the car, but I thought I was also getting quality service and parts. However, the best the service department seems capable of doing is lying, and bullying me into a fix for which I have no other recourse. They appear more determined to gouge me for 100 bucks than to get me as a repeat customer.
A Monopolistic Design and Shoddy Parts:
Some of you may own cars with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS). They are electronic devices that are attached to the valve stems of your tires to monitor your tire pressure through the on-board computer while you drive. Each wheel has one and they work independently. Most cars, when replacing one of these things, require a simple push of a button to reset the system. However, the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid doesn’t have that button or an automatic reset. Toyota has included this model on an exclusion list. That means the only way to reset the computer after a TPMS change is to go to the dealer – where they’re more than happy to charge you 100 bucks for your wasted time. The alternative is to drive around with the check engine light on and the computer stuck in tire sensing mode (where it repeatedly cycles trying to sense a tire that isn’t there until Toyota says it is).
Poor Quality Tires:
The Toyota Highlander 19” wheel package comes with subpar quality tires. Both the Bridgestone Deuler and Toyo Open Country tires that are factory installed are rated at 40,000 miles yet really only last less than about 18,000 before needing replacing (despite rotating them every 5 thousand miles). At 20,000 miles, my tires were about 3,000 miles overdue for a change. I went to Discount Tire for the replacement. They told me I either had to upgrade to tires that would cost me 300 dollars each (plus install) or stay with the same model that just wore out on me. I chose the cheap option again because I just don’t have the money to spend on new tires after I was expecting these to last another 2 years at least. Simply as a matter of finance I can’t get the tires I want. Otherwise I’d gladly pay extra for some good tires now so I don’t have to deal with this again next year. I’m not happy about it, but I grudgingly accept my fate on the tire matter.
During the tire change they told me one of my TPMS devices was corroded in the core and needed replacing (shoddy part). They charged me 97 dollars for a new one and returned the car to me. I drove off the lot and realized that my check engine light was on and that my dash computer was stuck on the check tire pressure screen. Thus, the next day I took it back to Discount Tire where I thought I would wait 5 minutes while they reset the computer. After waiting an hour in their lobby with my 5 year old (who had a cup of coffee while we waited) they came out to tell me I needed to take it to the dealership for the computer reset. My specific model, Toyota Highlander Hybrid 2008, is on their exclusion list; they’re incapable of resetting it because Toyota coded it so they couldn’t.
The Discount Tire manager was apologetic. He gave me the old TPMS device and the codes for each wheel. He told me it was a simple matter of plugging a handheld device (which looks like an oversized Game Boy) into the dash (there’s a plug for it right under the steering column which I can see) and syncing it. It should take no more than a minute or two. He also warned me that Toyota would try to tell me it was more complicated than that and try to gouge me.
I drove immediately over to the Toyota dealership with the codes and the corroded TPMS thing in hand. I told my whole story and asked them if they’d reset the computer for me. There were 4 guys behind the service counter and they all shook their heads and said “No Time. You’ll have to either leave the car all day or set an appointment.” I asked “How complicated is it to plug the computer in and punch in a few numbers? Here, I have the codes if that’s a problem.” The reply was a laugh (as if I’m somehow unsophisticated) and a quote of 45 minutes and 103 dollars to get it done (but they didn’t know when they could get me in so I should leave the car there all day). They continued with one of the lamest lie attempts I’ve ever heard. “We have to go into the computer, sir. It’s not as easy as you think.” I’m sorry, Mr. Service guy, do you think I’m an idiot? I can completely reinstall Windows on my computer in less than 45 minutes. You’re trying to tell me it takes that long to go beep-boop and enter a couple of numbers which I happen to have right here in my hand for your convenience? Give me the machine, you idiot. I’ll do it myself. That’s what I wanted to say, but I didn’t. Instead I set an appointment and walked away feeling like I should have punched one of them in the face.
I did what any self respecting consumer advocate would do who doesn’t like getting lied to and gouged. I wrote their service department an e-mail expressing my displeasure. I got this reply:
The charge to program a new sensor is $51.50, it requires reading all of the existing codes on the TPMS and clearing them out and then reentering the codes with the new sensor. I’m sorry you were misinformed on the charges I will let Mike know to charge you accordingly.
Andre (last name omitted because — I don’t know, isn’t that what people do?)
Larry H. Miller Toyota Boulder Service Manager
What I gather from this is that the computer does its job when plugged in. It gets the codes, and then the service tech punches in the new ones. Like I said, I even have the codes. 10 bucks says if they gave me the machine I could figure it out myself. But, of course, it’s too complicated for a simpleton like me.
Follow Up: No Reply
I want them to do the reboot for free. They gave me crappy factory tires that didn’t last half of what they were advertised to last. They lied to me about the effort required to reset the computer. They didn’t reply to my second follow up where I complained again about the reduced price of $51.50. They blew me off when I went to see them in person, treating me like a nuisance rather than a person who paid retail price for an already overpriced vehicle in the hopes that service and quality were worth the extra cost. Furthermore, and worst of all, they seem to think they can get away with it. Perhaps they can. They intentionally designed my particular model and year with ripping me off in mind.
This is the reset button on other Highlanders that use the exact same TPMS technology. Pressing a button doesn’t seem hard to do. Thus, punching in a number on a computer couldn’t be overly stressful either.
This is where the reset button should have been on my 2008 Hybrid model, but isn’t.
The General Manager of our Larry H. Miller Toyota Boulder contacted me today with this e-mail:
My name is Steve Xxxxxxx and I am the General Mgr of Boulder Toyota. I was just talking to Andre about this tire situation. Putting myself in your shoes I think I would feel frustrated as well. As a matter of fact, I just had a similar situation with Hewlett Packard regarding my PC. I think we should have taken care of this and apologized for the hassle and thanked you for your business once again. And that is what I am doing. I am taking care of this charge for you. I have been at this store for 23 years and would never want to alienate a customer over $100. Sorry for the poor communication on our part.
Steve (last name omitted for the same reason as before)
Normally I would say, “Psht, I just yelled loud enough so they gave up. That doesn’t mean anything.” But, I like this letter because he was specific. He admitted the TPMS issue was handled badly. He seems to genuinely get it. I spent half my day waiting around that day just to be told no on an issue that was comically simple if anybody had just cared about me (and my 5 year old who was twice as frustrated as me) enough to put themselves in my shoes. After all, he’s human too. We’ve all had these moments. The lesson here, folks is this: Make sure to air your grievances with facts. Explain the frustration, and make sure someone who can make a decision hears you.