Love it or hate it, there's no arguing the Toyota FJ Cruiser is pretty unique. Sharing some internals with family members like the Land Cruiser Prado, 4Runner, and Hilux it's definitely a capable off-roader as well. Combine those two things and if you want something other than a Wrangler it's a decent choice. Yes, it's kind of weird looking, but every year Toyota subsidiary, Hino Motors in Hamura, Japan, cranks out an even more unique version of the FJ. Called the Trail Teams Special Edition, it gets painted a unique color for the year, drops the white roof for a body colored one, adds some blacked out trim pieces, TRD (stop saying TuRD!) wheels, BF Goodrich All-Terrain Tires, along with the standard FJ off-road package (suspension bits etc.). Here's my 2013 model in happier times:
It's no Rubicon, but it is decidedly less clown-like than the regular FJ, and Toyota only makes about 2500 of these a year. Some background:
The EPA requires automakers to perform emissions testing on vehicles subjected to real-world use. In order to do this, the companies will often request to "borrow" customers cars to complete the testing, which consists of putting the vehicle on a dyno for a couple hours spinning the wheels at highway speeds while gathering data on what gets spit out of the tailpipe. In return for their generosity, the companies will offer a token amount of cash (a couple hundred bucks), a free tank of gas, a wash, and a loaner while their vehicle is in use. It all sounds pretty safe. After all, if you're going to let anyone borrow your car, you can't get much safer than the manufacturer right?
Well, here's where things went a little sideways. About a week after loaning my vehicle to Toyota, I received an odd call from an engineer at their Tech Center in Ann Arbor, MI informing me there had been an "incident" with my vehicle. They had put the FJ on the dyno, spinning the rear wheels for about two hours at 60mph. No problem, except for one more fun fact about the FJ—well, specifically a manual transmission FJ: It's full-time 4wd. So for two hours, the FJ was humming along spitting out EPA tested gasses while at the same time the transfer case was reaching a temperature somewhere close to the sun's. An understandable mistake maybe from a third party or even MAYBE a dealership, but by the manufacturer's own engineers? After leading all manufacturers in number of vehicles recalled last year, it kind of makes you wonder what's going on with the normally reliable company.
So what happened next? Good question. Here's what Toyota offered:
Below is a copy of the offer currently waiting your action.
1) An offer of a replacement vehicle with one currently in dealer stock. You would only have to pay the difference in MSRP of the two vehicles minus the three added items on your purchase contract of $460.00, $674.00 and $60.00. A new loan will have to be obtained for this amount plus the payoff of your current vehicle. If you cannot find a vehicle of your choice, then we will :
2) Repurchase your vehicle for your total cost. No mileage fee will be assessed. One check would be made to pay off the bank for $24,308.51 and one check to you for $11,261.69. TTC also stated they would reimburse you $500 for your speakers and iPod holder in a separate check.
I will follow up on the issuess we discussed during our phone call.
a)How would taxes and other fees be handled in option #1
b)Clarify the statement "to pay the difference in MSRP of the two vehicles"
c)The interest rate on your current loan is 1.49%. You would like consideration for similar interest rate
Thank you for your consideration
First of all, I get it—accidents happen. Toyota has agreed to replace the vehicle, which I respect, but how do you replace a "Special Edition" model of a specific color? Set aside the obvious question of whether an automaker's own engineers should understand their vehicles well enough to test their own products safely. This is a situation where an automaker reached out to me, a customer, asking me to volunteer my vehicle to help them out. Then that automaker turned around and broke it. I would think that in a situation like this, where the automaker's reputation is on the line, that they would want to bend over backwards to right that wrong in the customer's eyes, right? The 2014 Trail Teams FJ seen here is a pretty loud blue, and not something I'd feel comfortable driving every day. I mean, I purchased the 2013 specifically because of the color (actually, I waited months for it), so is it too much to ask for Toyota to paint one for me to replace what I no longer have? Or should I just take the money and run far, far, away from Toyota and their engineers?
UPDATE: After some more back and forth, in a few weeks I'll be taking possession of a 2014 Trail Teams Ultimate Edition FJ. I'll only owe the balance of my current loan, and end up with a vehicle that costs a couple grand+ more than mine. I'm hoping the blue is a little more muted than the pics I've seen online so far, but at worst, I end up having driven my truck free for a year. Toyota is even picking up the tab for the few upgrades I made. Since this article was posted, I've been dealing with Toyota Motor Sales Executive Offices in Torrance, CA vs. their regional office, and they've been very accommodating. Thanks, Toyota!