Toyota addresses its transmission problem — sort of.

August 22, 2007

If the announcement were any quieter, the whole world would have missed it.  Hell, call it covert, because even guys like me who have been a thorn in Toyota’s side missed this one.

The big news is that Toyota FINALLY has a much anticipated “reflash” for its transmission control, which is intended to reduce the problems found in five-speed automatic-equipped Avalons.  If you recall, the Avalon trannies had a horrible issue of not selecting a gear from stops or low speed, which often resulted in near-catastrophe collisions.  Transmission shifting / downshifting was always rough.  This seemed to affect mostly 2005, 2006 and some 2007 Avalons, but also Camrys with the same V6/ five-speed-auto combo.

One would think that this being a safety issue, the Feds would have required a full-on recall.  Nope…Somehow Toyota managed to get away with just a TSB.  This means you will only get the fix if you go in, schedule an appointment and ask for the fix.  Even my local dealership — which told me they’d call me the second there was an available fix, didn’t make any attempt to contact me. 

Oh yeah — the fix is nearly two months old.

So far most people have been satisfied, but I’ll reserve comment on the success until well after I get my personal Avalon in sometime next week.

For reference — here’s the entire copy of the Technical Service Bulletin:

ENGINE

Technical Service
BULLETIN

June 6, 2007

Title:

ECM CALIBRATION: ENHANCEMENT
TO SHIFTING PERFORMANCE.
& SMOOTHNES.

Models:

’06 – ’07 Avalon

EG029-07
Introduction
To enhance shifting performance and smoothness during acceleration, the Engine
Control Module/ECM (SAE term: Powertrain Control Module/PCM) calibration has
been revised. Please use the following procedure to address customer concerns.

NOTE:

Before proceeding, verify the ECM (PCM) calibration has NOT been updated by
checking for the Authorized Modifications Label (shown in step 1 of the
Repair Procedure).

Applicable .
2006 – 2007 model year Avalon vehicles produced BEFORE the Production Change
Vehicles

Effective VIN shown below.

Production
Change
Information

MODEL PRODUCTION CHANGE EFFECTIVE VIN
Avalon 4T1BK36B#7U243331

Parts
Information

MODEL
YEAR
PREVIOUS PART NUMBER CURRENT PART NUMBER PART NAME QTY
20062006
89661–07450
89661–07471* ECM (PCM)( ) –89661–07451
2007 89661–07470
– N/A 00451–00001–LBL Authorized
Modifications Label
1

* The ECM (PCM) should NOT be replaced as part of the Repair Procedure.
NOTE:

Authorized Modification Labels may be ordered in packages of 25 from the Materials
Distribution Center (MDC) through Dealer Daily Dealer Support Materials System or by
calling the MDC at 1–800–622–2033.

Warranty
Information

OP CODE DESCRIPTION TIME OFP T1 T2
EG7023 Recalibrate ECM (PCM) 0.9 89661–##### 26 99

Applicable Warranty*:
This repair is covered under the Toyota Federal Emission Warranty. This warranty is
in effect for 96 months or 80,000 miles, whichever occurs first, from the vehicle’s
in-service date.
* Warranty application is limited to correction of a problem based upon a customer’s

specific complaint.
Toyota Supports ASE Certification
Page 1 of 4

ECM CALIBRATION: ENHANCEMENT TO SHIFTING PERFORMANCE & SMOOTHNESS – EG029-07 June 6,

2007

Required
Tools &
Material

REQUIRED EQUIPMENT SUPPLIER PART NUMBER QTY
TIS Techstream*
NOTE: Software version 2.00.008 or
later is required.
ADE TSUNT 1
GR8 Battery Diagnostic Station* SPX/OTC 00002–MCGR8 1

* Essential SSTs.
NOTE:

.
Additional Techstream units may be ordered by calling Approved Dealer
Equipment (ADE) at 1–800–368–6787.
.
The Toyota Diagnostic Tester and CAN Interface Module may also be used to
perform the service procedures listed in this bulletin.
.
The GR8 Battery Diagnostic Station (P/N 00002–MCGR8) supersedes the
Automatic Trickle Charger (P/N 00002–YA122–01) and Fast Battery Chargers
(Associated P/N ASE6003 and Christie P/N CAPPDQ). P/N 00002–YA122–01,
ASE6003, and CAPPDQ are now obsolete.
Calibration
Identification
Chart

MODEL MODEL YEAR
PREVIOUS
CALIBRATION ID
NEW
CALIBRATION ID
VDS
AvalonAvalon
2006 30705000
30705100 3070710030707100 BK36BBK36B
2007 30707000

NOTE:

Vehicles which have been flash reprogrammed using the procedures in this TSB
will contain upgraded 2007 model year OBD II logic. Refer to the 2007 model year
Avalon Repair Manual on the Technical Information System (TIS) when checking
Powertrain Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) on 2006 model year vehicles that
have been reprogrammed.

Page 2 of 4

ECM CALIBRATION: ENHANCEMENT TO SHIFTING PERFORMANCE & SMOOTHNESS – EG029-07 June 6,

2007

Repair 1. Check for the Authorized Modifications Label affixed to the vehicle in the

location
Procedure

shown in Figure 1. Confirm if the ECM (PCM) calibration has been updated. If the
calibration ID listed is NOT the latest ECM (PCM) calibration — go to step 2.

Replacement
ECM (PCM)
Part
Number

Calibration
ID(s)

THE FOLLOWING MODIFICATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE:
89661–07471
30707100
THESE MODIFICATIONS HAVE BEEN APPROVED
AS APPROPRIATE BY EPA AND CARB
DEALER CODE: DATE:
CHANGE AUTHORITY: TSB EG029–07

Date
Completed

Dealer Code
TSB Number

Figure 1. Location of Authorized Modifications Label on 2007 Avalon

2. Flash Reprogram the ECM (PCM).
NOTE:

.
The GR8 Battery Diagnostic Station MUST be used in Power Supply Mode to
maintain battery voltage at 13.5 volts while flash reprogramming the vehicle.
.
For details on how to use the GR8 Battery Diagnostic Station, refer to the GR8
Instruction Manual located on TIS, Diagnostics – Battery.
Follow the procedures outlined in TSB No. SS002–07, “Techstream ECU Flash
Reprogramming Procedure,” and flash the ECM (PCM) with the NEW calibration
file update.

3.
Start the engine and warm it up to normal operating temperature before test–driving.
4.
Test–drive the vehicle to confirm proper vehicle operation (and proper laser cruise
control operation, if so equipped).
Page 3 of 4

ECM CALIBRATION: ENHANCEMENT TO SHIFTING PERFORMANCE & SMOOTHNESS – EG029-07 June 6,

2007

Repair 5. Install the Authorized Modifications Label.

A. Using a permanent marker, enter the following information on the label:
Procedure
(Continued)

.
ECM part number: [Refer to the Parts Information section for the CURRENT
PART NUMBER]
.
Calibration ID(s): [Refer to the Calibration Identification Chart for the NEW
CALIBRATION ID]
.
Dealer Code
.
Repair Date
.
Change Authority (this TSB number): EG029–07
B.
Affix the Authorized Modifications Label to the vehicle at the location shown in
Figure 1. The Authorized Modifications Label is available through the MDC,
P/N 00451–00001–LBL.
Page 4 of 4

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Little Mistake Sunshine

August 17, 2007

Movies have never been kind to automotive authenticity. From the earliest days of cinema to the latest blockbusters, it is apparent that screenwriters are very much against spending time and money on basic automotive research.

All too often I’m struck by a glaring automotive mistake in the middle of an otherwise decent piece of entertainment. Usually it’s a passing remark, visual flub or stretch of reality that indicates the crew simply didn’t catch some otherwise irrelevant part of the flick.

“Little Miss Sunshine” might take the award for the most egregious automotive blunder in a motion picture. I watched this on cable last week and was absolutely dumfounded by the screenwriter’s complete lack of automotive understanding.

Without going into great plot details, the characters find themselves piling into a VW van for a road trip. At one point in the trip, the wife switches to drive and finds she cannot get the selector into first gear. The husband jumps back in and discovers he can’t get past the grinding either.

At this point I say to myself “clutch is out.”

The scene immediately switches to a mechanic telling the family that the clutch is out, making me feel happy about my split-second mechanical diagnosis. The mechanic then explains that a replacement clutch will take several days to source. Given that the fictional shop’s location somewhere in Bumfrick, New Mexico, this also makes sense.

When the family explains they have to be in California for the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant posthaste, the mechanic states that they really only need the clutch for first and second, and that they can shift from third to fourth without the clutch. He then says that if they roll down a hill they can start the VW in neutral and slide it into third gear without the clutch.

Of course, one character questions what happens if there’s no hill, which leads to the predictable next scene of the family pushing the van and all piling in as it starts going under its own power. This gag is used repeatedly throughout the remainder of the film.

So what’s wrong with this all? It’s unnecessary and incorrect!

Anyone who’s ever lost a clutch knows that it’s true that first gear is inaccessible with the car running, so that is accurate. Second, third and fourth are all fundamentally the same, meaning one should be able to get into second without a clutch if they can get into third or fourth. Even if first and second were both unsynchronized (having no synchromesh) that actually makes it easier to get into second gear, rather than a synchro-ed third and fourth. In any event, it’s possible to get into any gear once the car is rolling.

But the most important part here is that any mechanic understands that pushing the car is completely unnecessary unless the starter is kaput. The solution this family would have gotten from anyone with an ounce of car-sense would have been “put it in first gear, then start it in gear.” The van will lurch in gear on the starter, then will run normally once the engine fires.

Yes it works. Even if the clutch is out and the vehicle has a clutch safety switch, simply depressing the clutch pedal will allow the vehicle to start.

Of course, this means that one must turn off the engine at stop signs and lights and repeat the process. This is why when I purchased a Porsche 944 with a bad starter and bad clutch slave cylinder (rendering the clutch useless) my friend opted not to drive the car 70 miles back to the house in rush hour. Shifting was fine, but not having a reliable starter for every time I5 came to a stop was more of a hassle and risk than taking the time to put the car on the trailer.

Starting a VW van in gear would certainly not have the same comic effect as having famous actors push the thing, but at least car fans around the world wouldn’t have choked on their popcorn.

And just to show how little Hollywood cares about reality…”Little Miss Sunshine” was nominated for Best Picture. I’d like to think a few car enthusiasts on the committee banded together to ensure this film didn’t win, but it might be wishful thinking.

I have a lot of respect for film and television writers who take that extra time to ensure their work is accurate. I recently helped a writer/producer with automotive technical content for a television pilot. We worked together to ensure that issues of this nature are nowhere to be found in his automotive-related show.

It was a great experience…and shows that some in the industry are still dedicated to delivering realistic screenplays.


Chevy’s Impala proves tough to accept

August 13, 2007

My just completed trip to Banff was supposed to provide me an opportunity to experience something that’s right about the current American car industry. I had arranged to rent a Ford Fusion, a car getting pretty good reviews from fellow journalists due to great ergonomics, quality and performance.

Looking forward to a rewarding rental experience, I approached the Hertz rental counter at Calgary International Airport. Being handed the keys to a 2007 Chevrolet Impala, my bubble instantly burst. No biggie, I thought. With a wife, two daughters and tons of luggage, the extra space of a full-sized car might pay dividends.

The Impala has traditionally been near the top of the Chevrolet brand. When the name appeared in 1958, the Impala was a style leader. Soon the model defined performance sedans with 348, 409, 396, and 427 cubic inch engines available in SuperSport trim. Even in the 1990s, the Impala retained cache, as the Corvette’s V8 found its way into the rear-wheel-driver when most competitors utilized four or six bangers.

The modern Impala looks handsome, yet even in electric blue paint, it is very generic. Gone are the distinguishing circular tail lamp clusters, so there’s really nothing that identified this as anything other than just another rental-class cruiser.

Materials, fit and finish inside would be considered class-leading for 1977, but for 2007 ranks a strong D-minus. All of the materials look and feel cheap. Panel gaps vary, while the center stack screams “hiding parts bin components.”

Moving the seat back on the tracks to accommodate my legs resulted in pinning my six-year-old daughter’s feet. Despite a full-sized body length, rear seat leg and knee room is far inferior to most mid-sized cars. A quick glance seemed to show roughly four less inches than my daily driver 2006 Toyota Avalon, which unlike the Impala, is classified as a mid-size sedan.

Blame for the lack of interior room falls to a typical GM problem: bulky front seats. Like in Cadillac products, the Chevy’s seat profile is so insanely thick that it consumes much needed rear knee and foot area. In addition, the seats offer about as much support as a park bench, so the cushioning is basically irrelevant.

The final proof that the ergonomics guys were either phoning it in or had been laid-off by GM brass was the pedal positioning. With my foot resting on the accelerator, moving my foot directly to the left resulted in my size 11 Nike cross-trainers going completely underneath the brake pedal. And they wonder why old people in GM cars keep getting in accidents when they can’t locate the brake!?!?!

The Impala’s cruise control also disappointed. Beyond the ergonomic flaws of the three-buttons on the left of the steering wheel, the system was worse at controlling the speed than a Ferrari-driving NBA player. Chugging along Highway 1A with the cruise control set at the 110 kph maximum, the Impala regularly registered anywhere from 95 to 130 kph.

The bottom line is that the Impala’s inadequacies are no longer acceptable in a car priced at $15,000, much less one carrying a $22,000 base price. Indeed the much smaller, cheaper, yet also much maligned Ford Focus rented by a fellow vacationer showed much better materials, ergonomics and ride qualities. A Ford Taurus, which the company stopped developing seriously after regulating it only for fleet duty a couple years ago, also proved much more comfortable and dare I say impressive when compared to Chevy’s top of the line sedan.

I often use to classify cars in three categories: those I’d love to buy, those I would buy, and those I would only drive if handed the keys by a rental or media car company. The Chevy now forces me to create a new one: those I won’t drive again under any circumstances.