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Avalon Electronics

thegadgetguruthegadgetguru Posts: 27
edited March 9 in Toyota
2006 Toyota Avalon
Great Car, Substandard Electronics
By: Andy Pargh, The Gadget Guru

Buying a car today can be as complicated as deciding which flat screen TV format is right for your home and wallet.

That's because today's automobiles are more than just basic transportation, they are more akin to an extension of our mobile lifestyle. It comes as no surprise that carmakers today are including more technology than every before ranging from communication and navigation devices to entertainment systems that keep the entire family entertained even on the longest of jouneys.

Like buying a flat screen TV or an entire home entertainment system, if you rely solely on the information provided at store level, you could end up being greatly disappointed with your purchase as many times the salespeople either don't know the product they are selling or don't take the time to assist you in selecting the product that matches your usage and lifestyle. Even with the abundance of information provided on manufacturer's websites, many of us don't take the time to do a bit of research prior to entering a retail establishment. Today, purchasing a car can be more complicated that purchasing a computer. Simply stated, that's because most buyers admit upfront they don't know much about computers and succumb to the information provided at retail. With cars on the other hand, it's difficult to find an individual who will admit they know nothing about what they are looking for in a new vehicle.

Complicating this matter, today's batch of automobiles contain more than just efficient engines and comfortable seats, they are loaded with more gadgets today than ever before. Trying to decipher all the offerings are made even more complicated as many of the tech offerings are offered in bundles, meaning that although there are some features you might not mind paying for, they are bundled with many gadgets you would never consider or have no need to purchase. It used to be that you would walk into a dealership, select a model, sit down with a salesperson and select the desired options. The car would then be ordered to your specifications and delivered in approximately six weeks.

This has changed as today dealers are trying to increase sales and most carry a heavy inventory of vehicles that fall into two classes: Base and Fully Loaded. The problem herein is that the dealership management is predicting upfront what features its customers will be demanding. Granted, few if any dealers in South Florida get request for features such as Heated Windshield Washers as this is a feature we will most likely never use.

Having spent as lifetime as a technology reporter, I am one of those buyers that enjoys automobiles loaded with the latest and greatest electronic features. I have to admit that I'm not the typical buyer as I truly do my homework prior to entering a dealership. Many times I find myself knowing more about an individual automobile than the person selling it as I enjoy spending countless hours performing research on new purchases.

Recently, I thought I found a diamond in the rough in Toyota's flagship Avalon. From information gathered from Toyota's well designed website, I was able to configure this car with the exact features and functions I desired. While I put more "seat time" in my golf cart than my automobile and drive fewer than 5,000 miles per year, all I was looking for was a smooth, comfortable ride and a lot of technology for a very competitive price. This car seemed to fit this bill. Available in four configurations, I decided to go with its top of the line Limited model and loaded it up with technology. The offerings that I consider necessities for myself are GPS Navigation, Bluetooth (for safety purposes, this should be a requirement, not an option on every vehicle sold as it allows for hands free, cell phone usage), Adaptive Cruise Control, Rain Sensing Wipers, Heated/Ventilated Seats, Satellite Radio, Park Assist and a Smart Keyless Entry System. Yes, many of these items are frivilous, but having spent more than 20 years as a leading technology reporter, these creature comforts were necessities for my lifestyle. After all, I'm not a hypocrite - I practice what I preach.

Another aspect that captured my attention after test driving the Avalon was that it delivered a smooth ride with very comfortable seating and carried a price tag, even loaded with all the aforementioned technology, around half the price of a comparable Lexus. (Lexus is owned by Toyota). All would have been perfect and I would have felt that I truly found the diamond in the rough, if only these features would have operated as promised. This is where my perfect "diamond in the rough" automobile purchase turned into the most sour of lemons.

Since the dealership did not have a test vehicle with many of these items available prior to purchase, I asked numerous questions about the performance of the tech items and was assured that all worked as promised. I can tell you upfront, this was not the case and from countless conversations with both dealer and Toyota factory personnel after the problems were identified, I was led to believe that less than 5% of purchasers of Toyota's flagship Avalon opted for its top of the line Limited model delivered fully loaded. Based on information from Toyota's website as well as information derived from the sales staff, I made the plunge and ordered one. While I was initially promised delivery in about two weeks, it was closer to five weeks when it arrived. It appears that while Avalon is a good seller for Toyota, the vast majority of its buyers opted for the base model and my selection had to come from the factory in Kentucky and make a stop in Jacksonville for further installations.

While initially the car looked perfect, other than a few blemishes that were missed in the "preparation detailing" process (that's what those exhorbitant "dealer fees" are supposed to cover), it was on my 45 minute drive home that I quickly realized all was not perfect when its GPS and Satellite Radio systems failed to operate properly. While I entered the information to route me to my home from the dealership using the quickest method (which should have been the Florida Turnpike), it wanted to guide me home via 441. I can only estimate the true time difference between these two routes to be around a half an hour. When you look at a map and see the road it wanted to send me (441) ran parallel to my desired road (the Florida Turnpike), it was a 45 mph route that had numerous stop lights. My desired routing would have me traveling at 70mph with no slowdowns until I reached my exit.

Upon arriving home, I grabbed the instruction book and read it cover to cover. Written in translated Japan/English (with numerous typographical errors), I tried other input methods for the GPS and quickly realized that for some strange reason, it consistently wanted to send me down those slow
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Comments

  • nimiminimimi Posts: 249
    Amazing! You reject an entire vehicle because of two "frills" that have absolutely nothing to do with the functionality of the car.
  • I don't know about you, but when I spend $3,000 for a GPS/Satellite system, I expect it to at least work. It seems that Toyota didn't even test it prior to purchasing the electronics from Nippon. If they are scrimping on something that is so obviously defective, then imagine some of the other items that were purchased from the "lowest bidder."

    As stated in the article on www.gadgetguru.com, the car had a wonderful ride for the entire 185 miles I owned it.

    The biggest problem is that when the problems were identified, they kept escalating it and wasting countless hours of time.
  • nimiminimimi Posts: 249
    It sounds as if you have more of an issue with your dealer than with Toyota. I have absolutely no complaints with my '06 Limited (5100 miles). However, I felt it a waste of 2 grand to get the navigation system and I don't spend enough time in my car to make the ongoing monthly service charges worthwhile for the satellite radio.
  • Nimimi, here's a question for you:
    Is it the responsibility of the dealership or the manufacturer to insure the proper training and product knowledge of the salesperson? In my experience, both were lacking. While the dealership had little if any product knowledge, they were responsive when I identified the defects. When my inquiry reached Toyota Customer Service, it was a total waste of time as they didn't care whether or not the electronics were defective. It was truly dissapointing. A rep called every night at 8pm for three weeks and kept me on the phone for at least 90 minutes at a time...making me repeat over and over again the problems. Even after they were thoroughly explained and verified, they would make me start over again. So, to address your response, although the dealer knew little about the car, the factory did nothing to rectify the situation.
  • bobwileybobwiley Posts: 241
    Nimimi/thegadgetguru: I have an 06 Limited with Nav--I thought it would be like the one in the Lexus ES330 I test drove before buying the Avalon for more room. My fault--should've done more "hands-on" research regarding the Avalon Nav. I too am VERy disappointed in the Nav--sorry I didn't just buy an $800 Garmin--said I wanted a "loaded" Limited and I have one. Slowly, but surely I'm learning more about the Nav--still it is VERY user unfriendly and very awkward to program--like having an 8 Track system. Love the car--BEST car of over 30 cars I've owned. But, something needs to be done with the Nav to make it more user friendly. All the other electronics--Laser Cruise, XM Radio etc--work great.
    Bob
  • oilcan2oilcan2 Posts: 120
    Your saying you put on 185 miles in 3 weeks,I rented a
    Avalon with nav for 10 days and did not see any major
    problems,maybe you should have spent time using the nav
    instead of 64 hours on the phone.
  • Bobwiley, Thanks for the input. Read my review at www.gadgetguru.com where I detail the problems with the navigation system. Outside of the problems with the software, the dealership did not have an Avalon to see before buying where I could have at least had the opportunity to try it before I made my purchase. They also did not have a car with the interior satellite antenna hidden behind the sunscreen on the inside of the front window. Had I been given the opportunity to at least see them, from 20 years as a tech reporter I most likely would have seen the problems prior to purchase. As it played out, I found all the bugs on my drive home from the dealership and contacted them immediately. What a disappointment.
  • Oilcan2, When the problems became apparant on the drive home from the dealership, and I immediately notified the General Sales Manager, we made a deal. I would put the absolute minimum miles on the car until they figured out the fix. (I have multiple cars so this seemed fair). In turn, he would hold my car until the final decision was made. I was originally led to believe it would be days, but Toyota dragged it out...even after they agreed it was defective...for a total of more than three weeks. After three weeks, I returned the Avalon with 185 miles and in pefect conditon, received my money back and my car. I was told my car was reconditioned (It was an excellent condition 2004 Lincoln Navigation with low miles...approximately 10K miles.) When I picked up my Lincoln, it had accumulatated an additional 1,180 miles. I was told the GSM let the used car manager take it home each night...approximately 1.5 hours each way. Now, who was living by the rules and who got screwed? Shame on Palm Beach Toyota.
  • I have posted a full review of all the defects in the Toyota Avalon's GPS and Satellite Radio systems. The report is longer than what is allowed in this forum. Feel free to check it out at my personal website.
  • I recently purchased and returned a 2006 Toyota Avalon Limited that was fully loaded. While going through the Customer Service ladder took three weeks of lengthy daily calls, Toyota is aware of the defects and can do nothing to fix it. They buy the GPS/Radio System from Nippon Denso and evidently no one from Toyota tested the electronics prior to placing them in its vehicle. I have documented the full experience and while it's too long (very detailed) to put in this forum, I have posted it on my personal website. Feel free to check it out. I would like to see if others have had similiar issues. Click Here To View The Full Review. (Please note that my website is a personal website and is not for profit nor do I accept any advertising). I took the time to document my experience for the benefit of future purchasers.
  • Thanks to all who responded to my posts about the poor GPS and the constant drop-outs experienced in the new Toyota Avalon.

    Allow me to make this fact very clear. For the three weeks I owned this vehicle, I really liked the car and it was a fantastic value. It was comfortable, delivered a smooth ride and had acceptable handling characteristics for a FWD vehicle of this wheelbase size. This is what pains me most about having to return the Avalon Limited due to the defective GPS and poor satellite reception. I read complaints about the lack of comfort of the perforated seating, but since I put very few miles on my Avalon, I never experienced any discomfort whatsoever. I loved the inflatable leg extension and for someone my size, it was one of the best comfort features of the car.

    I will say this about the seating, the salesperson was adamant that the seating was Heated and Air Conditioned. I tried to explain to her that it was not truly Air Conditioned, it was Ventilated. There is a difference. She did not grasp this concept. Maybe I'm being too detailed, but what would you do if you went to Best Buy or Circuit City to buy an HDTV and was told it was 1080i, only to learn later it was the lower 720p?

    This points to the lack of knowledge from car sales people in general. Last week I test drove a Cadillac DTS and having spent 15 minutes on the Cadillac website, I knew more about the vehicle than the salesperson. All he cared about was, "What's it going to take for you to buy this car today?" To me, I would haggle less on price if I was gaining good, honest information and was made to feel very comfortable about my purchase. When you spend so much time questioning the facts obtained from car salespeople, it's difficult to separate fact from fiction.

    Since cars are major purchases for many of us, I truly think it is reasonable to expect honest information from a salesperson. After my experiences with Toyota (and Cadillac) I think the fault is with both the dealership and the Toyota. It seems that Toyota provides little if any training to the sales staff and feels it is the responsibility of the sales management. The dealership does basically nothing in terms of training. The materials provided to prospective purchasers are designed by ad agencies and are nothing more than pretty pictures. Have you seen the brochure for the Lexus LS? It talks more about vineyards than it does about the car.

    At Palm Beach Toyota, each salesperson has these large binders that contain many more facts about the vehicle than what is available to the consumer. The problem is, the average salesperson does not take the time to read them and it collects dust on shelf.

    One suggestion I might make is to have the manufacturer provide a DVD of all the information contained in those binders and require that all salespeople watch it. If they aren't reading the materials supplied by the manufacturer, maybe they will watch a DVD.

    I spoke to the General Sales Manager of the Toyota Dealership and he told me that after the misinformation I was given, he was going to start having training seminars (with incentives) for the salespeople. The sad part is, although his intention and demeanor was good, I truly doubt that this plan will ever be executed as they are more concerned about quantity than quality.

    Car dealerships have had a bad reputation for as long as I remember. But in this era of information, consumers such as us are more educated than ever. An educated consumer, is becoming a car dealership's worst enemy. We can't blame them as we allow them to take advantage of us.

    It's forums such as these found here at Edmunds that allow us to trade stories and obtain information, both good and bad, that could someday force dealer management to take the high road provide for more pleasant purchase experiences. If it wasn't for the JD Powers surveys, dealers really wouldn't care how we felt about our purchases.

    When GM's Saturn was first introduced, many (such as myself) thought that the one-price, no haggle purchase policy was the road map to the future of car buying. After all, nobody wants to know that their neighbor got a better deal than they did on the same vehicle. Sadly, this concept was not welcomed by other manufacturers.

    Much of the problem today lies in all those dealer and advertising fees that are tacked on at the end of the sales process. Since when did we as consumers become responsible for these expenses?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Maybe that saleslady was a bit smarter than you think...

    Suppose there is an air conditioning air outflow duct under the seat and the seat fan/blower is just picking up that CHILLED airflow and passing it up through the seat.

    I'm quite sure there is such a duct to carry CHILLED airflow for the rear seat passengers.
  • I did my homework. On the Avalon there are two circulatory fans...one on the seatback and one under the seat. (This is probably why many purchasers of the Avalon with this feature are reporting discomfort on long drives...as they are feeling the edges of the fan casing). This is a ventilated system. The Navigator on the other hand, along with Mercedes, BMW and others actually have an A/C vent plumbed to the fans. The Avalon does not. Even on Toyota's website they are careful to say the seats are Heated and Ventilated...not Air Conditioned.
  • captain2captain2 Posts: 3,971
    sales people would be less important to know a little something extra about the Avalon than the service depts.- which is where, I have found Toyota's non-existent training most apparent.
    Mine an early '05 - and from being sold the wrong oil filters, no knowledge of actual oil capacity, having to show the service manager what our wiper blades really looked like, and multiple trips to repair an oil leak (TSB 12-23-05) - have certainly felt that the service folks, while nice enough, were learning on my car.
    Most surprising to me, because Toyota knew this drivetrain was to become the basis of several hundred thousand of the Toyota/Lexus vehicles they sell - not just the hundred grand or so of Avs they sell per year. But, as you note, don't think this is unusual with any manufacturer/dealers combination that brings a truly new car to market.
  • The problem lies in the fact that the Service Manager, the person who probably know the most about specific funtions, is not involved in the sales process. In my case, when he got involved, it was not a pleasant customer experience.

    The other question is, when there is an apparant problem that appears in a run of vehicles, are the sales people required to tell you about the defect before you buy, or do they have to wait until a recall? There is an ethical dilemma here.
  • 2006 Toyota Avalon
    Great Car, Substandard Electronics
    Buying a car today can be as complicated as deciding which flat screen TV format is right for your home and wallet.

    That's because today's automobiles are more than just basic transportation, they are best compared as an extension of our mobile lifestyle. It comes as no surprise that carmakers today are including more technology than ever before with offerings ranging from communication and navigation devices to entertainment systems that keep the entire family entertained even on the longest of journeys.

    Like buying a flat screen TV or an entire home entertainment system, if you rely solely on the information provided at store level, you could end up being greatly disappointed with your purchase as many times the salespeople either don't know the product they are selling or don't take the time to assist you in selecting the product that matches your usage and lifestyle. Even with the abundance of information provided on manufacturer's websites, many of us don't take the time to do a bit of research prior to entering a retail establishment. Today, purchasing a car can be more complicated than purchasing a computer. Simply stated, that's because most buyers admit upfront they don't know much about computers and succumb to the information provided at retail. With cars on the other hand, it's difficult to find an individual who will admit they know nothing about what they are looking for in a new vehicle.
    Today's Automobiles Are Loaded With Gadgets,
    Complicating the Purchase Process

    Complicating this matter, today's batch of automobiles contain more than just efficient engines and comfortable seats, they are loaded with more gadgets today than ever before. Trying to decipher all the offerings are made even more complicated as many of the tech offerings are offered in bundles, meaning that although there are some features you might not mind paying for, they are bundled with many gadgets you would never consider or have no need to purchase. It used to be that you would walk into a dealership, select a model, sit down with a salesperson and select the desired options. The car would then be ordered to your specifications and delivered in approximately six weeks.

    This has changed as today dealers are trying to increase sales and most carry a heavy inventory of vehicles that fall into two classes: Base and Fully Loaded. The problem herein is that the dealership management is predicting upfront what features its customers will be demanding. Granted, few if any dealers in South Florida get request for features such as Heated Windshield Washers as this is a feature we will most likely never use.

    Having spent as lifetime as a technology reporter, I am one of those buyers that enjoys automobiles loaded with the latest and greatest electronic features. I have to admit that I'm not the typical buyer as I truly do my homework prior to entering a dealership. Many times I find myself knowing more about an individual automobile than the person selling it as I enjoy spending countless hours performing research on new purchases.
    Avalon: Diamond or Lemon?

    Recently, I thought I found a diamond in the rough in Toyota's flagship Avalon. From information gathered from Toyota's website, I was able to configure this car with the exact features and functions I desired. While I put more "seat time" in my golf cart than my automobile these days, and drive fewer than 5,000 miles per year, all I was looking for was a smooth, comfortable ride and a lot of technology for a very competitive price. This car seemed to fit this bill. Available in four configurations, I decided to go with its top of the line Limited model and loaded it up with technology. The offerings that I consider necessities for myself are GPS Navigation, Bluetooth (for safety purposes, this should be a requirement, not an option, on every vehicle sold as it allows for hands free, cell phone usage), Adaptive Cruise Control, Rain Sensing Wipers, Heated/Ventilated Seats, Satellite Radio, Park Assist and a Smart Keyless Entry System. Yes, many of these items are frivolous, but having spent more than 20 years as a leading technology reporter, these creature comforts are necessities for my lifestyle. After all, I'm not a hypocrite as I practice what I preach.

    Another aspect that captured my attention after test driving the Avalon was that it delivered a smooth ride with very comfortable seating and carried a price tag, even loaded with all the aforementioned technology, around half the price of a comparable Lexus. (Lexus is owned by Toyota). All would have been perfect and I would have felt that I truly found the diamond in the rough, if only these features would have operated as promised. This is where my perfect "diamond in the rough" automobile purchase turned into the most sour of lemons.
    Sales Personnel Receive Limited Training On New Technologies

    Since the dealership, Palm Beach Toyota, did not have a test vehicle with many of these items available prior to purchase, nor did any other Toyota dealership in the South Florida area, I asked numerous questions about the performance of the tech items and was assured that all worked as promised. I can tell you upfront, this was not the case and from countless conversations with both dealer and Toyota factory personnel after the problems were identified, I was led to believe that less than 5% of purchasers of Toyota's flagship Avalon opted for its top of the line Limited model delivered fully loaded. Was this just an excuse?
    Based on information from Toyota's website as well as information derived from the sales staff, I made the plunge and ordered the aforementioned vehicle. Although it was evident that the sales staff at Palm Beach Toyota had received little if any training whatsoever, as long as the "gadgets" worked as promised, I would have been a happy customer. While I was initially promised delivery in about two weeks, it was closer to five weeks when it arrived. It appears that while Avalon is a good seller for Toyota, the vast majority of its buyers opted for the base model and my selection had to come from the factory in Kentucky and make a stop in the privately-owned S.E.T. (South East Toyota) in Jacksonville for further installations.
  • While initially the car looked perfect, other than a few blemishes that were missed in the "preparation detailing" process (that's what those exorbitant "dealer fees" are supposed to cover), it was on my 45 minute drive home that I quickly realized all was not perfect when its GPS and Satellite Radio systems failed to operate properly. While I entered the information to route me to my home from the dealership using the quickest method (which should have been the Florida Turnpike), it wanted to guide me home via 441. I can only estimate the true time difference between these two routes to be around a half an hour. When you look at a map and see the road it wanted to send me (441) ran parallel to my desired road (the Florida Turnpike), it was a 45 mph route that had numerous stop lights. My desired routing would have me traveling at 70mph with no slowdowns until I reached my exit.
    Sales Personnel Should Be Required To Read Instruction Manuals

    Upon arriving home, I removed the instruction book from the glove compartment and read it cover to cover. Written in translated Japan/English (with numerous typographical errors), I tried other input methods for the GPS and quickly realized that for some strange reason, it consistently wanted to send me down those slower, scenic routes even when numerous other faster, shorter routes were available.

    Within hours of delivery and realizing this problem, I contacted the dealer and they said they would look into it. When they realized there was a potential problem and that I was serious about having it followed-up, they said they would hold my old car until everything was resolved.
    Manufacturer Customer Support Nightmare

    I was given a number to call for Toyota Customer Service. It took numerous calls and countless hours to properly explain and have the operator understand the issues. As with most customer support situations, it took a few calls to get it escalated. As I awaited a phone call from a higher-level Toyota Customer Support Agent, I took the time to further explore the GPS software. It didn't take long to find yet another fluke that was a victim of poor software design.
    This one was centered around it's POI (Points of Interest) feature. POI is a highly promoted and desirable feature of GPS as it allows you to find just about anything (restaurants, gas stations, recreational destinations, etc.,) with the press of a few buttons. Allow me to note that the Avalon did not feature the desirable Touch Screen and used a flimsy rocker switch that many times jumped more steps than desired, making data entry a bit frustrating and very time consuming. While I knew prior to purchase of the lack of a "touch screen," due to the low price, the "joystick" seemed to be a fair trade off. Here's an example of how the Avalon GPS POI function would operate:

    I was searching for a Sushi restaurant, so I navigated through a series of menus starting with Destinations and then to the POI screen. Then I scrolled to Restaurants then to Japanese. I then had to enter my city (didn't this GPS system already know where I was located?) and saw there were 18 Sushi restaurants in the search area. Per the book's instructions, I was to press "List" and be able to view the listings either by "closest" or "alphabetically." This List button failed to appear and was dimmed - meaning it was inoperable. My only option was to press the letters of the alphabet to view the list. Please note that only a few letters were available for entry and each one only contained the names of the restaurants that started with that letter. The first active letter was B and when pressed, only a few restaurants were displayed. So, I pressed the back button to go back to the keyboard to select the next letter in the alphabet. The software wouldn't let me do this and made me start all over. This is the ultimate in software glitches and was so profound that this malfunction was tantamount to some of the faults found from the great minds of Microsoft. However, unlike the numerous faults found in Microsoft's software, there was no way to download a fix, nor did the manufacturer offer a method to correct these problems. Although the book described the proper operation, and I followed the steps exactly as published, I was given the option from Toyota personnel best described as "like it, or lump it."

    It was at that point where my request for support was escalated and after reviewing the entire process with yet another Toyota Tech and waiting a few days for answers, then asked the same questions repeatedly, days later I was escalated to yet another Toyota Tech. This was supposedly the guy who knew everything there was to know about this GPS system. Of course, although this tech had a full report of my findings, I had to start all over from the beginning. This was a very time consuming process and each conversation took around 90 minutes. It was quickly confirmed that my GPS unit was not defective, every GPS included in an Avalon would behave in the same manner. Although its instruction book confirmed my findings that it was not operating properly, after three weeks of daily interviews by Toyota's technical representatives and the exhaustive repeating of the problems, there was no fix for the apparent bugs. Much to my surprise, even the product managers of this device was aware of these issues. I found this very difficult to believe. The only offer was to send me a free DVD upgrade when it was available.
  • No Viable Solution Offered For Defective Electronics

    Allow me to note, that the DVD upgrade would not have fixed these problems as all it would have done was provide an update to new roads that were not included in the current version.

    It's also important to note that Toyota does not manufacturer GPS units, and the one in the Avalon was made by Nippon's Denso. I was never given the opportunity to discuss this with a Nippon representative and not granted the ability to gain correct answers. Here's where the quality image of Toyota has been tarnished in my mind: It was confirmed to my by the Senior Toyota Tech that the 2007 Avalon will offer the exact same Nippon Denso GPS unit. Even knowing that it was defective and that it could be fixed with a software patch, I was told that it would not be changed or altered for the new model. I don't know about you, but I find this a serious violation of our trust.

    The more I studied the instruction book, the more I learned that the unit delivered in the vehicle was not operating as promised. Here's another example:

    Anyone who has ever owned a GPS Navigation system knows there is both a day and night mode. This is a safety feature as the day mode typically has a very bright white background that is necessary for easy daytime viewing. The night mode is typically triggered when the headlights are activated and either automatically dims the screen or changes to a black background. The purpose of this is safety as when the bright background screen is displayed in a night time driving environment, it is bright...very bright. The best way I can compare this is trying to drive at night with the interior lights on. With this bright light source, it can be difficult to see the road in front of you. This is a safety issue and was not working properly. Even worse, this GPS system had a manual override setting that lets you set the color of the screen for day or night viewing. Needless to say, no matter which setting I selected, not one of them altered the screen to anything but the default selection.
    It's important to understand that just the GPS system is a $1,900 option. Units with similar (and often enhanced) features sell in electronics stores for nearly half this price. The difference is that this was built in, and I had no option other than to go with this unit. Also, allow me to add that the dealership presented a document to me upon purchase that if I modify the audio system in any way (and the GPS is incorporated into the audio system), that it would violate and immediately terminate the warranty. So, I couldn't even attempt to have it replaced...even if it was possible. I couldn't have ordered it without the GPS system and purchased an aftermarket device. Just think, all they had to do was deliver a model that operated properly and I wouldn't have wasted this much time on this issue.
    Satellite Radio...XM or Sirius?

    Another problem with this vehicle was the Satellite radio system. As we have learned, there are basically two options for those wanting to explore the the new world of satellite radio: XM and Sirius. The automakers have alliances with specific satellite providers. In this case, Toyota's alliance is with XM. Common sense tells you that since the satellite radio uses the same screen as the GPS (as well as the Air Conditioning and other features), and since it was designed for XM compatibility, when I was offered the option of having Sirius (which I personally prefer), I opted for this addition. Of course, I asked if by going with Sirius, since the radio was designed for XM, would I be sacrificing any features. You can already guess the salesperson told me it would work perfectly.
    Who is at fault, Dealership or Manufacturer?

    I realized I was mislead on my drive home from the dealership. While I noticed something very strange when I picked up the vehicle and addressed it with the salesperson, I was told it would not be a problem. What I noticed was that the noticeably oversized satellite antenna was located inside the front windshield as opposed to on the roof or on the rear trunk lid. Even worse, the placement was on the passenger side, behind the rear view mirror. Not only was this an eyesore for the passenger, it was placed in a position that was behind the built-in sunscreen. This sunscreen is a black-dotted area that is incorporated in the upper portion of the front window. Locating the antenna in this location is problematic because for proper satellite reception, an unobstructed view of the skies are required. The obstruction of the glass and the sunscreen weakened the signal (two signals are required for proper reception) and on my initial drive home, while driving the unobstructed Florida Turnpike, the radio was suffering constant dropouts. This is why most manufacturers place the antenna outside the vehicle.

    While obstructions such as overpasses and bridges can cause dropouts, satellite radios feature a "buffer" that delays the content by four seconds. This way, if you're driving under an overpass and the signal is temporarily interrupted, you will most likely not notice as the buffer kicks in and delivers uninterrupted programming. Because this antenna was located inside the vehicle and already delivered a weakened signal, even driving under an occasional tree limb would interrupt the signal. When compared with vehicles equipped with an exterior antenna, you will most likely not hear an interruption in a similar situation. This was very annoying as satellite radio is supposed to deliver CD quality and an uninterrupted signal coast-to-coast. This setup couldn't make it through the same county without the annoying dropouts.

    After numerous conversations with both Toyota Techs, the dealer's service manager and a tech rep from Sirius, I quickly learned there was a reason this antenna was placed in this location: It was less expensive to install as less wiring had to be performed. I also learned that the reason this interior antenna was initially designed was to give a method of installing an antenna in a convertible as a roof installation was impossible. But the true problem was even deeper than this.
  • As stated, Toyota has an alliance with XM radio. However, the dealership I purchased this vehicle from is owned by (what I learned) a Roger Pensky (yes, the racing legend) and I was told he is a major stockholder in Sirius. While they offered both XM and Sirius as options, it made sense that his dealerships were pushing Sirius were offering it for free (although the monthly service charges were not included). As stated, I asked if the Sirius tuner would operate with full functionality on a system that was designed for XM and was given an affirmative, albeit wrong answer.

    Jumping forward, after returning the Avalon and later test driving a Lexus that included a Sirius radio (Lexus, like its parent Toyota, has an alliance with XM), I learned from the salesperson that other than its existing inventory, they were to no longer offer Sirius as an option. I can only assume that XM was enforcing its agreement with Toyota and Lexus. As we already know, with all the hoopla surrounding the arrival of Howard Stern to the satellite airwaves, Sirius has become synonymous and the preferred choice for those seeking satellite radio. To be perfectly honest, I would consider a purchase of a Lexus LS, but after my experience from its parent Toyota, it would have to be one of those offers I couldn't refuse. Now, back to the story of the satellite radio.

    Those who already own a satellite radio know that one of the features is the deliver of text. For example, if you are listening to a talk show, the name of the hosts is displayed along with a toll free number to call if you care to participate. Another application is the display of a song title and artist. However, the Sirius interface included on the Avalon only delivered up to ten characters of text per line. If you do the math, you'll realize that it was not capable of delivering all of the text information. This is what happens when a product is retrofitted and does not meet factory specifications.
    One factor you have to understand is that my 2004 Lincoln Navigator was purchased with both the factory installed GPS and Sirius satellite radio and operated flawlessly. Because technology is supposed to get better and less expensive year after year, you can see that although the Avalon's electronic systems were two years advanced, they were light years behind. Maybe the simple answers is that American car manufacturers understand electronic interfaces and the American consumer better than the foreign automakers. I guess this means that all those dollars (or yen) spent on marketing research were a waste.
    With More Tech Options Available Than Ever Before, A Higher Level Of Training Should Be A Requirement

    These problems could have been avoided if the salespeople were properly trained. Since today's vehicles are loaded with new technologies, a new breed of automotive salespeople are needed to insure a high level of after the sale customer satisfaction. After my experience, I decided to visit other dealers of various automakers to ask numerous questions about these high priced, high-tech offerings and it should be no surprise that I could not find a single salesperson who could properly explain these features.

    Why is this important? The automotive industry is currently under scrutiny as sales of all but the lower priced gas sippers are rapidly falling. While the manufacturers have been blamed for these losses, I'm starting to believe that they are not totally at fault and the blame can be more accurately directed to the management of local dealerships.

    My question is, whose responsibility is it to properly train automotive salespeople? Is it the responsibility of the manufacturer or the individual dealer? This problem falls even deeper and it is based on the vast availability of product information to consumers via the Internet.
    When I was asking all these questions prior to purchase and it became evident that the salesperson at Palm Beach Toyota did not know the answers and I was not accepting her condescending answers, she handed me a binder that had all the answers that I was seeking. Why was it not a requirement for any salesperson to do their homework and learn about the products they were selling? Instead of just criticizing them, I have a solution.
    Since it's evident that the salespeople are not taking the time to read the provided materials, as an alternative, why don't the manufacturers take the time to produce training DVDs that can provide demonstrations not only focusing on the various options, but showing the salespeople how to properly demonstrate and explain the various add-on features? Sounds simple for these multi-billion dollar corporations, huh?
    Educated Consumers Are A Seller's Worst Nighmare

    A smart consumer is a retailers worst nightmare. Whether we're trying to buy a flat screen TV from Best Buy or an automobile from a dealership, a smart consumer can quickly become frustrated in the purchasing process when they take the time to research a potential purchase prior to entering a retail establishment. How many times have you had a salesperson spend more time trying to sell you an extended warranty than he/she does trying to explain the features of the desired product? Today, whether it's an HDTV or an automobile, it seems the salesperson seems to spend more time attempting to sell you these add-ons than they do the product itself. The answer is simpler than you may think. The reason they focus on selling you the extended warranties, under coatings and the like, is that they carry a higher profit margin than the product themselves. Like anything else, if you want to get to the root of a problem, "Follow the Money."

    In the early 1990s, I purchased a Jeep Cherokee from a very knowledgeable dealer and was given probably the best advice I have ever received from a car salesman.

    Upon the final walkthrough, prior to driving off the lot, the salesperson reached in the glove compartment and handed me the operators manual. He told me to take the book home and read it cover to cover as it was the best way to understand the capabilities of the vehicle. In his words, "You just paid $25,000 for this book...now read it!"
  • Today, with all the high-tech offerings found in cars, this advise is even more important as you may never know the capabilities of all it can do unless you read the manual. One of my pet peeves is a well written instruction booklet as it can minimize returns to the service department. Why electronics companies don't spend more time creating a well written instruction book is well beyond my comprehension. If you think about it, the cost to re-write a booklet such as those found in the glove compartment is probably less than the price of a single network commercial. And we all know, they don't hesitate when spending money on advertising.

    Things are different today as a smart consumer may opt to start a quest for a new vehicle online as opposed to kicking tires in a dealership. Typically, the information delivered from a manufacturer's website will contain all the specifications needed to make an educated purchase. The only information a website cannot deliver is the feeling of the test drive. But, herein lies the big problem.

    After visiting a number of dealerships armed with information from the Internet, when I was given poor information, or blatantly incorrect information, the common answer received was that the salesperson had a full line of cars to sell and it's virtually impossible to know all the features of a specific vehicle. This is a lame, but common answer.

    I can only remember when I worked for Panasonic early in my career. The sales staff had literally hundreds of products with various specifications to learn. These products were constantly rotating, making education an ongoing process. Panasonic provided product specialists to educate the sales staff who in turn educated the buyers. Better decisions were made and product returns were reduced.
    When I hear a car salesperson that has a mere six to eight...maybe even as many as a dozen models to sell, delivering an answer such as this, I can only wonder why the dealership does not take the time to properly educate it's personnel. After all, while base vehicles carry smaller profit margins, the big profits are made by up selling the purchaser with numerous options. Purchasing a new car is a major decision and financial commitment for most of us. Training a salesperson to deliver honest information should be a priority by a dealership's management.

    Needless to say, I have little empathy with the manufacturer's and dealership's falling profits when today's automobiles are typically a much higher quality and more reliable than anytime in our history. Yes, the car salesperson has been the brunt of many poor jokes. With my recent experience in numerous dealerships, I have to say that these jokes are understated.

    My major problem is, prior to entering a dealership, I'll go to the manufacturer's website and take a half an hour reading all the available information. If I can do this, why can't a car salesperson do the same and deliver to the customer good, honest information?

    While I truly liked the ride and feel of the Avalon, I had to return it to the dealership as they could not and would not even attempt to fix the failing electronics. The worse part was, they wasted three weeks of my time with daily, lengthy phone calls attempting to break my soul and force me to simply live with the fact that the car was defective...and be happy with it. Like it or lump it.

    Not all people have the experience I have in the world of electronics. I will quickly admit that I know basically nothing about transmissions, but I know when a consumer electronic product is poorly designed or blatantly defective. What really bothers me is that a company as large and profitable as Toyota will knowingly allow these defective components to leave their factory. Even worse, when I was able to properly explain to various customer support representatives the exact problems, they had little desire to help or compensate for the problems. It appeared to me very quickly all they wanted was to wear me down so that I would walk away. All they wanted was to avoid the publicity and expense of a recall. I still cannot believe that with Toyota knowing of these deficiencies, they will not be providing a fix in their soon to be released 2007 models.

    After the three frustrating weeks, I was able to return the car. But, being The Gadget Guru, I would be doing a disservice to simply walk away.
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