Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My relationship with Toyota

It is interesting to see how attached you can get in a short time to a product that you never owned or felt the need for before you actually bought it. Home computers, cell-phones, the internet, MP3 players and TVs are products and services that have only existed a few decades or even years, and yet many people would go so far as to say that they “can’t live without them”. I am myself sort of addicted to my computer and the internet service. In fact, when I experience an internet problem, I literally feel depressed. I don’t even dare to think about how I would be affected by a future hard disc failure.

Another apparent example of this kind of addictive product is the car. It seems that many, if not most, people don’t actually “need” a car until they actually buy it – after that however they easily become very attached to it. Again, I pick myself as an example.

For 36 years I lived a perfectly happy life (and presumably healthier due to all the biking) without owning a car, regardless if I lived in Ekshärad or in New York, in Brussels or in Lund. All in all, I considered cars to be dangerous, expensive, problem-causing (sooner or later they WILL break down) and environmentally polluting status symbols. Excellent as taxis and rental cars, but not as property. Also, for some reason I have come to develop this strange aversion against car salesmen and mechanics.

Some of my family and friends (who were already convinced car-owners) would laugh at my way of reasoning and at times they would try to convince me how much I actually needed a car without really knowing it. When Elias was born, one of them gave it 2 months before we would have a car. In fact, it took one year and three months – and moving to a developing country.

It turned out that the research we made on our future homeland suggested that a car – preferably a four wheel drive – was more or less indispensable for the kind of life we wanted to have here in Cape Verde. So we ended up buying a Toyota RAV4. Why? Because 1) Toyota it is a well known and widely used brand in Africa, 2) Toyota cars are known to be reliable and never break down 3) Toyota are known for taking good care of their customers and fixing problems that nevertheless might happen and 4) the RAV4 is one of the smallest and probably the most fuel-efficient 4WD on the market. (As you will see, some of these assumptions turned out to be false.) Toyota was also one of the relatively few brands actually represented in Cape Verde, and it is not considered a status brand and therefore relatively reasonable in terms of the price.

We bought the car in June 2006. And, yes – I have to confess that it didn’t take very long before I started to feel rather attached to the RAV. My previous doubts about being a car-owner tended to be less present as soon as I turned the ignition key.

Before we signed the contract, we wanted to make sure that it was covered by a worldwide warranty. Just in case. And the local car dealer in Brussels ensured us that the warranty was world-wide for three years. Six months later however, out of the blue, the break system suddenly broke down due to an underlying manufacturing failure. The estimated repair cost was around 2-3000 euros. And to our astonishment, the local Toyota garage refused to accept our warranty.

We immediately contacted the car dealer in Brussels who reconfirmed that the warranty should be valid also in Cape Verde. They then referred us to Toyota Belgium and Toyota Europe (customer service), who were rather unhelpful and would accept no responsibility in the matter. Instead, we were advised to contact Toyotas main office in Japan, which we did on several occasions both through fax and email. We never got any response.

At this stage, the situation looked rather grim. How could it be that nobody in Toyota took any responsibility for a major manufacturing problem on a brand new car? It was quite absurd. In a final and almost desperate effort, I called Toyota Sweden for advice, even though they had nothing to do with this. And for the first time my case was taken more seriously. I was given another helpful contact at Toyota Europe, and after that things finally started to move in the right direction.

It took an incredible eight weeks to fix the car, but at least Toyota Cape Verde finally changed their mind and accepted the warranty. I still don’t really know why but I suspect that my most recent contacts with Toyota Sweden and Toyota Europe might have had something to do with it.

I come to realize that this car issue has taken up a great deal of my focus and energy for the last few months. Upon reflection, it is not easy to understand why I got myself so worked up about something that I previously didn’t care much for at all. Of course – being stranded for almost two months without a car in a developing country, where taxis are unreliable and unsafe, especially when traveling with a small child, is not ideal. But probably much off the agitation actually derived from the feeling of being deceived, disrespected and dismissed by so many of the Toyota representatives. Nobody we talked to assumed direct responsibility for the issue. Toyota Japan didn’t even bother to answer us. Moreover, we weren’t even given a proper apology – a simple “Oh by the way, we are really really sorry that you bought a product from us that didn’t work” would no doubt have made some tangible difference.

OK, so Toyota got their act together in the end, and I am glad that they did. Our car was repaired and covered by the warranty. Nevertheless, the time it took and the way the warranty issue was handled was no doubt disappointing. My long term committment to being a car-owner and my relationship with Toyota is therefore a bit uncertain. Maybe the “car addiction” kicks in again, and all my disbelief will be forgotten and my confidence in Toyota will be recovered in a blink. Or perhaps I was right all the time: cars (including Toyota cars) are just expensive trouble, and its better not to become addicted in the first place. Time will tell.

1 comment:

lauren said...

nice write up.
Cars can sometimes be annoying and disappointing but nonetheless, it's addicting. I love my car and i can say that maintenance and the fix are quite expensive. I got a frozen door handle and i end up buying a new toyota door handle. Almost forgot i have to bring my car to it's service again.