Dear Tom and Ray:
Help! My daughter-in-law purchased a new 2009 Toyota Corolla Type S in late 2008. The car has about 40,000 miles on it, so it has exceeded the warranty by about a year and 4,000 miles. The car was taken to the Toyota dealership from which it was purchased because the steering wheel dropped down when the wheel was turned. The dealer said that the bolts that secure the steering wheel had backed out. The dealer later stated that the steering column would have to be replaced, because they couldn't reinstall the bolts through the bracket on the steering column. A claim was opened with Toyota, and Toyota denied the claim, citing expiration of the warranty. Aside from faulty bolts or improper torque, what would cause these bolts to back out? Is there anything she could have done to make this happen, or is this clearly a defect? The estimated price of a new steering column is about $2,000, so now my daughter-in-law is making payments on a car she can't drive or afford to repair. Should Toyota at least share the cost? — Dennis
Tom: In my opinion, definitely. There's absolutely nothing your daughter-in-law could have done to strip the bolts on the steering wheel. I don't think we've ever seen that happen, in decades of repairing cars. So it could have happened one of only two ways.
Ray: Either the bolts or some part of the steering column was defective when the car was manufactured, or someone made a mistake on the assembly line and it somehow slipped through the quality-control process.
Tom: So I would ask your dealer to set up an appointment for you with Toyota's "zone manager" for your region. That's someone who's empowered to investigate unusual situations and take action if it's called for.
Ray: I'd think Toyota would be embarrassed to have its steering wheels falling off at 40,000 miles, and would want to quickly fix this, even with the car out of the warranty.
Tom: And if Toyota isn't embarrassed by this, write back to us and we'll try harder to embarrass them. Good luck, Dennis.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)