Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Can you tell me how to get repairs done fairly?

I have a 2004 Toyota Sienna, which needs several repairs, some of which are expensive. I need advice on whom to approach about repairs and how, which problems I should ask to get taken care of for free, how to stay firm but polite, what to do if I’m not satisfied, and how far I should take this, because I need the repairs.

I don’t want to do this on the phone because people mistake me for my 12 year old son. I think it’s best to always go in person, but I am hesitant to approach a Toyota service person since I am only a 4’11” 53 year old female, for which some people then feel they can ignore me. Also I still believe that women may be taken advantage of, even in 2011

Can you help me?

Thank you,
Previously Loyal Toyota Customer

Problems and Concerns:

  1. The heating and air fan stays on even when shut off, but it only happens when I’m driving.
  2. The front passenger window gets stuck from time to time, and it’s about $100 just to get inside the door and to diagnose the problem.
  3. There was a recall for the front door check mounting panel warranty, but it was for 5 years from date of purchase or 100,000 miles, whichever came first. My problem started after that, but it shouldn’t happen at all, ever. Again, it’s expensive to fix because of the cost of opening the door and diagnosing the problems.
  4. The malfunction indicator light goes on for a long time and then may go off for a few days, which means I have to take it to the dealer. They said it will cost $120 just to find out what is wrong and what’s causing it. It could be something very inexpensive to fix or it could end up being very costly.
  5. The back doors freeze, which never happened with my other Toyotas. Friends have said it happens with their Sienna!

Note: Although the tires have been replaced and not a problem right now, they wore down too soon, so I was able to get a discount on replacements because of the timing.

I strongly feel that many of these problems are primarily because I own a Sienna, which is of poor quality. I have owned three Toyotas and had always planned on buying more, but I am very dissatisfied, not just because of the above mentioned problems. There have also been recalls for the seatbelt bezel, spare tire; radiator tubes cracking, rusting at the bottom of the driver’s door, and rear lift gate strut problems. I have not had the spare tire or seatbelt checked yet. Of course, there has also been a lot of press about other problems that Toyota has been having over the last few years. It will take some convincing before I buy another Toyota.
Can you help me?

  1. I assume you’re referring to the cabin fan - the one that blows air on you, and not the condenser fan, which is in the engine bay by the radiator? I’d need you to describe exactly what you mean by “driving.” Do you mean when the engine is on? Or only when the car is actually moving? Does it do it constantly when the car is moving, or does it come on and off?

  2. I’d probably pay $100 for the diagnosis too, and I’m a 6’ tall male. I have no idea what you might pay after the diagnosis. It could be something as simple as gunk in the window tracks, and it could be something as complex as a bent window track that would require re-assembly of the entire window mechanism.

  3. As long as they have the door open to diagnose the window, have them replace the panel. They won’t charge you twice for opening the door up unless you have them do it on separate visits.

  4. Unless you live in California, you can take the vehicle to an auto parts store (Autozone almost always will help) and get the diagnostic codes read for free. Even if the light isn’t on when you get it there, the code should be stored. Report back here with what they find (be sure to get the exact code, not their interpretation of what the code might mean).

  5. What do you mean by freeze? Do you mean when it gets cold water gets in the door and freezes, making it impossible to open, or do you mean the door won’t open even when it’s warm out? Is it the lock that’s freezing? The handle? The hinge?

Before you get too upset about reliability, keep in mind that modern cars are fantastically complex machines, even when compared to a car from 15 years ago. A study once showed that a modern car has more lines of computer code than the F22 Raptor stealth fighter. And that’s just the computer. And unlike an air force jet, you don’t have a team of dedicated mechanics spending hours keeping the vehicle in perfect maintenance every time you park it. On a modern car, even from the companies with a rep for being ultra-reliable, some stuff is going to go wrong. I’m not trying to excuse Toyota - I’m just saying that you probably won’t get much better results from anyone else.

Except for the free recalls, you need to find a reputable independent mechanic to do some estimates for you. This mechanic’s rates should be cheaper than using a dealer. I have my best luck with a relatively small independent shop of three or four workers, plus an owner. Depending on where you are located, some folks here may be able to make some personal recommendations. Also ask friends or relatives for recommendations. Third, check out mechanics files at the CarTalk home page near the bottom right. Depending on the mechanic and what he will work on, you may also need a recommendation to have a body shop help with some of the door issues.

I don’t think you should expect to get any of these things fixed for free. Your car is seven years old, with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Seven year old cars with that many miles on the odometer have problems. How old does a car have to be before you think you should have to pay for repairs?

You can have the trouble codes read for free, so that saves you $120…As for the power window repair, the shop should roll the $100 diagnostic fee into the repair if you decide to have it repaired. Over the years, these mechanisms have become pretty much standardized and repairing them is not that big a deal…

There is no such thing as a maintenance-free car, especially after they cross that 100K mile mark…You have to pay the man sooner or later…

Just Checking . . . Have You Replaced The Timing Belt On This Toyota ?

I’m not sure what Toyota’s specified change interval is, but Gates (a leading belt manufacturer) shows a replacement is due every 90,000 miles.

This item would be a higher priority than the repair items you mention. The van becomes somewhat unreliable without it. It could break at any time and cause the van to stop running.


I think that any relationship between you and a shop is going to very adversarial at best.
You seem to be of the impression that any hiccup that develops should be covered by warranty on someone else’s dime and you’re insinuating that your gender and physical size is going to have an influence on how you’re treated and what is done.
While that scenario is always possible the odds are against it.

Toyotas have problems just like everyone else but I don’t see anything there that would justify a refusal to buy another one.

I’ve owned several Toyota’s, and I will definitely get another one when this one breaks beyond my ability to repair (at least, repair within reason).

There are a lot of things (OK, almost everything right now) I do myself, so I do save some coin there, but if it’s beyond my capabilities, then I’ll have it fixed by someone who can.

There are a lot of Sienna’s on the road, and a few right at my work. I don’t know of anyone who’s having this many problems with theirs. Are you sure you’re keeping up with all the maintenance on the vehicle?

Toyota (and probably everyone else) uses use vehicle registrations to notify of recalls. You don’ t have to wait for a failure to bring it in. If you get a notice, and you think it may impact you now, later, or never, take it in. It’s free, and can save headaches down the road.

I don’t know your current relationship with your dealer, I would guess it’s not too good, but you might be able to speak nicely to a repair rep and get the recall done, even though it’s past the allotted time. They can “good will” these repairs, and often will for good customers.

You can use that 4’11" to your advantage, too. Not everyone is trying to rip you off.


You own the first year of that generation Sienna which had quite a few kinks. Some of the problems are known others are just due to its age. This vehicle a few years latter is the most reliable of the minivans. Minivans by their nature are less reliable than car counterparts due to increased complexity and vehicle makers simply taking a car chassis and turning into heavier vehicle.

Toyota is not required to fix the problems if your experience has not been positive with them. A decent mechanic is. They exist, just ask friends, family and coworkers etc.

For the check engine light/malfunction indicator, jut take to a corporate chain type of auto parts store to get the error codes, as mentioned. Write down the exact codes - they look like “P1234” - and post them here.

A lot of the other stuff is actually car body stuff. I’d just ask around among people I know for experiences with locally owned body shops. Find one that people speak well of and bring most of those issues to them for an estimate.

The best way to find a good shop is by word of mouth. The answers may include a dealership, a private shop owner, even a mechanic who does side work on the weekends. Ask around. If you have no friends that don’t just go back to the original dealer and pay the minimum $1,500 bill per visit, then try the Better Business Bureau for accredited local shops, and maybe Angie’s List for local advice. I don’t mean to beat up on dealerships, but while most do a top-notch job, they are expensive and often have a habit of fixing things without asking the customer if he or she can afford the cost of the repairs.
If you do find a good shop mechanic, the best thing you can do as a consumer of car repair is to have a very good idea of what is wrong with your car. What needs fixing? If you hand it over to a dealership, you will pay for a car inspection right away. Demand that you be called to authorize any work.
To address your problems, 1) The fan switch is likely the problem, it is broken in the open position, but it’s not probably not actually hurting anything. Adjust the heater from cool to hot according to the weather, or pay to have the switch replaced. This is probably worth repairing, just to save a fan motor replacement down the road. 2) The front passenger window is a little off the track and may need to be manually pulled up to raise it.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to address my concerns. First, I will try to find a mechanic that people her recommend. I did try to get the codes, but I didn’t get any when the light was off. The guy there told me it had to be on and for some reason he said staff is not allowed to go outside and help customers, so I left. We did manually adjust the window, but after several times, we figured it would have to be fixed by a professional. It is very helpful to know that even though the recalls say if you are having problems to come in and get it fixed that I might as well go and get it checked even if I’m not having problems at the time. I also didn’t think that buy not fixing the fan switch that it might cause problems down the road, and I will have to check about the timing belt. The fan is running when I am actually driving, not when I’m stopped at a light etc. I will have to prioritize the repairs and try to bring back the code to all of you. Thanks for helping me out and understanding more about my car. Oh, the doors freeze shut when water gets in there and freezes or when it’s very cold outside. The locks are fine. Too bad I didn’t get a later model that you said was much better.

if water is getting in there you either have bad seals and need to replace them, or the door is askew on its hinges and needs to be adjusted.

One other comment. Check around with friends and neighbors, and ask where they take their vehicles for service.
if your lucky,you’ll find a shop that gets more service than the rest. Thats the one i’d check out.