Friday, June 27, 2008

An Open Letter to the Electrical Engineer of the Toyota Sienna

Dear Toyota Motor Corporation,

Prior to owning your 2006 Toyota Sienna LE, we owned a 2003 Honda Pilot EX which I adored. We purchased the Pilot just days before Child #1 was born in early 2003. It was my very first new car and I fully expected to drive it into the ground. I would still be happily driving it today, but we realized right before we had Child #3 in the summer of 2006, that not only was the back seat of the Pilot only suitable for elves, but that Child #1 (then age 3) was already taller than most elves. This is not to say that he minded sitting in the "trunk" with his knees folded up around his ears. He actually liked it. What he didn't like was getting hit in the face with his sippy cup or snack when I would try to toss it back to him from the front seat where I was supposed to be concentrating on driving. (Ahem)

Practicality necessitated that we trade in our rockin' SUV for a vehicle that could hold three car seats across the middle row. Close to the driver. So she wouldn't have to hurl things at her passengers. And I will say that it was enticing that the center seat in the middle row of the Sienna slid forward a bit so that the three wee passengers couldn't throw things at each other as well. That, I will readily admit, was a moment of TMC Design Genius, and was the sole reason we purchased your Sienna rather than a full-size SUV. Well, that and the fact that my husband has a pecuilar mini-van fetish and Jeff knew he had to seize his moment or lose it forever. In my enormous and exhausted state, I didn't have the energy to fight for my right to drive a more image enhancing vehicle. By then I was just trying not to waddle.

This brings me to the reason for this letter. Call me crazy, but I think it is incumbent upon an automobile to START when called upon to do so. Especially when said automobile is being driven by the mother of three small children who simply must be able to escape the confines of the house each day in order to keep them all from going stark raving mad. And if that mother is me and I have just carried two backpacks, and one diaperbag, and three sippy cups, and one water bottle out to the car - after having dressed three children, brushed three sets of teeth, taken two children to the bathroom, changed the diaper on one, buckled two sets of sandals, loaded all three of them into the mini-van, and securely fastened them into their car seats...I'm going to need said automobile to start IMMEDIATELY.

For about a year and a half, your Sienna performed as promised. It started right up when I turned the key. But as of late there have been many mornings that your product has let me down. So many mornings that on the eve of my husband's last overseas business trip, I insisted that he buy me a AAA membership just in case the car didn't start while he was gone. Which under normal circumstances would be considered a wise, thoughtful investment intended to protect precious cargo. In this case, however, it was purchased for a vehicle that is STILL UNDER WARRANTY. I would consider it a total cash loss except that I've actually had to use it. And I will say, that there is nothing like getting your car jumped right in the comfort of your own home. Unless, of course, your children are climbing the walls and you had to wait 90 minutes for the AAA "battery specialist" to show up only to be told that your battery levels are so low that you'll need to either drive around or idle your engine for a minimum of 10-hours in order for the battery to charge back up to reliable levels.

I'm no expert, but when I'm told it's going to take 9 hours and 45 minutes longer than the usual 15 minutes of idling to recover the battery, I suspect I have a bigger problem than merely leaving my lights on or door ajar or something.

To say this predicament has caused dissention between Freshour and Freshour would be an understatement. Jeff is convinced that it is something that I am doing that is causing the battery to drain. Our local Toyota dealership backs him up. And since he thinks he can identify what that something is, it goes without saying that he also thinks that I should change my behavior in order to solve the problem.

I say, Not. So. Fast.

As a mom, I consider myself a typical user of the Toyota product we own. Which means if I am having a specific, consistent problem with my mini-van, it stands to reason that a multitude of other soccer moms out there are as well. My reliable friend, Google, and hundreds of web pages full of complaints back me up.

The problem we are having is this. On the LE, there is an automatic sliding door on the right hand side of the car. If this door is left open for even a very short amount of time, it completely drains the battery.

So why not just close the sliding door? Three very good reasons:

1. When the door is left open and your 5-year old needs to go out to the garage to retrieve something he left in the van (cup, books, toys, shoes, socks, Buzz Lightyear costume, etc.), he can do it by himself. When the van door is closed, I either have to hunt down the key in order to open the door from inside the house, or I have to go out to the garage with him. I can only go out to the garage so many times in one day to retrieve the junk treasures of childhood before I start to growl.

2. I have been known to pre-load the car in the morning so when it’s time to leave the house I can focus on getting all the kids into the car without incident. Rather than make multiple trips out to the car, I often carry it all in one load. If the sliding door is already open, it is a simple matter to load it all in. But if the sliding door is closed, then I have to put all or some of the bags down, open the door, pick the stuff back up, and load it in. Worse, if the door is closed and LOCKED, then I have to lug all the stuff back in, put it down, find the key, unlock and open the door, pick all the stuff back up, carry it all back out to the car, and then load it in. You see my pain here? If you park your mini-van in the garage, it is just completely inefficient to close the sliding door.

3. Similar situation when coming home. It already takes multiple trips to get everyone and their stuff into the house. I rarely have an empty hand with which to close the sliding door, and I’m not making a third or fourth trip out to the garage just to close the darn thing.

Sadly, it's not just "misuse" of the sliding door that drains the battery. So do leaving the interior light(s) on, or idling for more than 10 minutes with your radio on. Fortunately, Moms are rarely at risk of having their children play with the overhead lights, or needing to sit in line at a car pool somewhere while they wait for summer camp to dismiss.

Oh, wait.

As a frustrated people group, I speak for us all when I say that we would like an electrical redesign. We would also like you to recall all of your minivans and outfit them with not just a new battery, but a new battery with more power than the current 9V that you equipped the car with. A battery that will stand up to normal mom-use. And if you don't want to do that, I'm going to be forced to organize a bloggy picket in protest. Or worse, trade it back in for another Honda product.

Waiting expectantly for your response,

Member of the Dead Battery Club (I believe you've heard of us.)

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