Toyota's massive repair job
The YouTube video (top) shows how a pickup frame is replaced. Above, the truck body is unbolted from the rusted frame. Above, the new frame, complete with powertrain and suspension, is being mated with the body.
As many as 225,000 steel frames under Toyota Tacoma and Tundra pickups and Sequoia SUVs may need to be replaced, says a lawyer who helped settle a class-action lawsuit against Toyota over the frames’ potential for rusting.
The repair is an expensive, labor-intensive process that requires nearly the complete disassembly of the vehicle.
The proposed legal settlement could cost Toyota as much as $3.4 billion for the repairs, according to court documents.
Several time-lapse videos on youtube.com show the job requiring as many as four technicians and two service bays. The repair can take from almost two days to a week, depending on a dealer’s ability to put more than one technician on the job.
About 1.5 million vehicles are covered under terms of the proposed settlement, which includes 2005-10 Tacoma midsize pickups, 2007-08 Tundra full-size pickups and 2005-08 Sequoia large SUVs. Vehicles are covered up to 12 years from the day of sale.
Blood Hurst & O’Reardon
The frames, which lack adequate rustproofing, were supplied by Dana Holding Corp. of Maumee, Ohio. Photos of rust-damaged frames show severe corrosion of the frame rails and the high-stress area where the rear suspension leaf springs mount to the frame.
If the frame is rusted to the point where its strength is compromised — especially near the rear suspension mounts — Toyota will pay for the dealer to install a replacement frame, according to the proposed settlement.
“The ultimate size of the settlement depends on a number of factors, including the valuation of the benefits offered under the settlement. Plaintiffs’ counsel will have to explain how they’re reaching their valuation numbers,” Toyota said in a statement. “More important to us is that the agreement will deliver that value to our customers.”
Toyota officials declined to answer specific questions about frame replacements, such as how long customers will have to wait, or whether any of the body hardware, nuts, bolts and fasteners are included in the repair.
“Probably about 15 percent of the frames that get inspected will end up needing to be replaced,” said Timothy Blood, co-counsel with Blood Hurst & O’Reardon in San Diego, one of three law firms in two states that successfully sued Toyota. “There are a lot of steps to it. And it is labor-intensive,” he said.
Replacing rusty frames will be costly for Toyota. The frames come in a variety of sizes and models, based on vehicle cab and drivetrain configuration.
The Tacoma frame, for instance, has 11 versions, ranging in price from $4,338 to $4,889. But the labor for the repair could push the total warranty bill per vehicle to $15,000 or more, according to a Toyota dealer who has been replacing frames for several years and asked not to be named.
Step by step
Toyota declines to discuss specifics, but YouTube videos show the repair process for frames that need to be replaced.
1. Separate truck bed, cab and components from frame.
2. Remove engine, transmission and rear axle, front and rear suspension and steering system, exhaust system, fuel tank, and hydraulic and fuel lines.
3. Transfer all components to the new frame.
4. Reinstall the drivetrain.
5. Install the body and bed on the new frame.
6. Reconnect and refill brake, steering, cooling, air conditioning systems; reconnect electrical system.
7. Align the wheels.
Installing a new frame under a Tacoma, Tundra or Sequoia requires the body to be separated from the old frame, which is usually done on a service bay lift. The pipes, wires, hoses and mechanical connections for the vehicle’s brake, cooling, fuel and electrical systems have to be disconnected.
Once the body is off the old frame, the engine, transmission, rear axle and front and rear suspension components, along with the fuel tank and exhaust system, must be removed from the old frame and installed on the new one. Excessive rust and worn parts can complicate this part of the job.
When these parts are installed on the new frame, the body is then lowered onto it and the systems are reconnected and refilled. All four wheels need to be aligned and all systems checked and inspected before the repair is finished.
The first step is an inspection. A technician at a northeastern Toyota store, who said he was not authorized to speak for the dealership and asked to remain anonymous, estimated that seven of 10 trucks that have come in for inspection need a frame replacement.
He said the store’s bills to Toyota for the repair average around $15,000, but the total repair price is often higher. Some customers have been paying out of pocket for new shocks, brakes and other wear items.
Before the proposed settlement, he said, the store was replacing an average of three frames a week.
Toyota would not comment on specifics of the settlement, which is being finalized. But Blood said Toyota has agreed to offer loaner vehicles to customers whose vehicles need new frames. He also said the proposed settlement covers Toyota owners nationwide and in U.S. territories.
“That’s important because people move,” Blood said. “And their vehicle might still rust out. If it needs a frame, it will be replaced, no matter where they are.”