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Sulfur Smell from Toyota 4Runner



  • Sulfur Dioxide has an ODOR THRESHOLD = 3-5 ppm. If you smell it, then it's concentration is AT LEAST 3-5 ppm. That's directly from OSHA (Canadian). Once the concentration is established, all you need to do is prove that 3-5 ppm is a hazard. Again, read the MSDS and OSHA regs on the STEL. You'll find that it's 5 ppm = hazard. Especially for 5-6 years of exposure. Furthermore, it's unpleasant to be around (irritates eyes and smells terrible). Also, IO can't think of one brand new vehicle that has Sulfur emissions INSIDE the vehicle. Can you?

    Is it up to me to hook my instrumentation up to my vehicle? I don't think so. Toyota has admitted the presence of Sulfur INSIDE the passenger compartment, now I believe that THEY are responsible for showing that the concentration does not violate the STEL per OSHA spec. Where I work, If our customer discovers a potential problem, we spend our resources to determine the hazard risk level. I understand your position, however, if you drive one of these stinkbombs, you would certainly think that it's highly objectionable.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    like that and agree with you - all I'm saying is that YOU have the burden of proof, by law, to prove your case. Toyota's defense doesn't have to do anything to disprove it. You have to PROVE it.

    After 3,500 cases in 2.5 years, I know how these arbitrations work - I'm just trying to let you know what you need to do - I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it's just the way it is.

    The plaintiff has the burden of proof - period.
  • I think what he is getting at is, consider the smelling VS non smelling as subjective. Imagine taking the service manager along for the ride in your 4R and you saying, 'see, smell that?' He says, 'No, i don't smell anything.'
    With a meter, it doesn't really matter if your sulfur olfactory threshold is 500ppm, and his is 500000ppm. The judge here cares about your measurement and your 3-5ppm OSHA doc.
    just a thought.
  • The only reason I drove with the cargo window open was to see if I would experience the Sulfur smell that others reported. I don't normally drive with it open.
  • Thank you all for advice. It's easy to smell. The customer service rep even admitted that he and his wife smell it.
  • The common answer given to the sulphur issue seems to be that it will disappear/diminish after 10K miles. Has anyone found that over time the severity of the smell decreases? Is it still a problem for many people at 10K + miles? Thanks.
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    the warranty is over and nothing happened.

    horse dovers, I say. burning fuel loads the cat up with sulfur, burning more isn't going to clear it.

    sounds like fancy dancing while herding you towards the door to me.
  • I agree, that sounds like puckyhuddle! JK. It's a problem they can't fix. Return the vehicle if it bothers you.
  • I just posted over in the regular 4Runner forum. I had the sulfur smell too and switched over to premium fuel for a couple of tanks and the sulfur smell is gone. Unfortunately it's been replaced by an ammonia smell, but it's nowhere near as strong as the sulfur smell was and is only noticable when the rear window is down. It seems to be subsiding as I get more miles on the vehicle... I've got 900 miles now.
  • meyersej,

    Do you understand that you should never have emissions inside the vehicle, including ammonia.
    So premium is required now to go from Sulfur to ammonia. If it weren't a hazard to your health I'd say that sounds rediculous; however, it's anything but.
  • I expect that exhaust being drawn into the vehicle with the rear window down is probably "normal" due to vehicle aerodynamics. It's probably just more noticable because it smells so bad.

    The only time I've ever smelled it without the window down was after a brisk acceleration followed by an immediate stop... I expect that the plume of exhaust that was being "dragged" behind the vehicle simply enveloped the vehicle when I came to a stop. Probably normal too... watch an old vehicle that burns oil in traffic sometime and you'll see what I mean... the blue cloud surrounds it when it stops.

    Except for pickup trucks, every vehicle I've ever owned (dating back to 1970s vintage models) has always had a warning in the owners manual about driving with the trunklid (or back window) open and that doing so could cause exhaust gases to be drawn into the vehicle.

    On page 247 of the 4Runner manual it says the same thing... "Keep the back door and back window closed while driving. An open or unsealed back door and back window, may cause exhaust gases to be drawn into the vehicle".

    of course, right below it says...

    "If you smell exhaust fumes in the vehicle, drive with the windows open and the back door and back window closed. Have the cause immediately located and corrected."
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    there is a vacuum behind the car, true, when you drive, that holds some exhaust. now, open the tailgate on your modern flow-through car. the inside air continues to be sucked out the ports usually in the rear doors or trunk area. but now, the air coming over the top back of the car has a place to go... the suction port of the flow-through is closer to the tailgate than the blower vents. no surprise, then, that this air will curl over the high brake lights and into the car through the tailgate, bringing exhaust with it. swirls in the air inside the car mix it with the air flowing under your nose.

    and the less-lucky swerve, hit a pole, or flip over in the ditch from the carbon monoxide. if you just had a headache or "thick ears," you were really lucky today.

    that's the reason all the manuals say do NOT open the tailgate when driving.
  • I get the odor when the windows are up and the A/C on recirc. Basically the cabin is sealed. That being the case, I shouldn't have sulfur entering the cabin under those conditions. I too will agree that you should never drive with the back window down. Because dangerous emissions can enter the cabin. Toyota added that caution because they realized that emissions entering cabin through the back window are hazardous. Now we all agree that emissions in the cabin are hazardous, right? Why should it be any different for my vehicle? The only difference is that they don't know where it's entering. That's why I'm returning my vehicle.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    I'm afraid it's not that easy, no matter your level of passion about the matter.
  • You're right, it's not easy at all. Apparently, they make it as difficult as possible. My hearing is soon; I'll keep you posted. Hopefully, the arbitrator will agree.

    Just curious, if Toyota has already admitted the problem by repurchasing a 4Runner for the same problem, can I use that in my favor?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    on the previous return, but using someone else's case information may be prohibited, as they want to talk about your car.

    Restricting that info helps Toyota. And yes, all manufacturers make it difficult to get a repurchase or compensation. Then again, only about 5% of the people who think they qualify for/deserve a repurchase actually meet the intent of the law.

    I know it's tough - I do this for a living....
  • I've had my V6 4Runner for 3 weeks now. I am in the Chicagoland area and never noticed any smell whatsoever. Has anyone mapped out where the majority of these cases are coming from? Maybe certain states have different requirement and sources for their fuel. I'm no expert but i'd just like to see what regions most of these complaints are coming from.
  • Nick,

    It seems to be mostly the V8 models, but some V6 model owners have reported it too. Here's the deal....

    There's a vent located on the left rear of the vehicle that seems to be allowing exhaust to enter the cabin under acceleration. The reason it's almost exclusive to the V8 is that it has more displacement and thus produces more exhaust and increases the probability of gas entering the cabin. The vent should have been relocated on V8 models farther away from the exhaust pipe to eliminate this hazard. This is a design flaw that should have been caught in qual testing before release of the 03 model.
  • My 2003 4Runner stinks! I currently have 15K on it. When I first bought my 2003 4Runner in November, 2002 and complained to dealership the following day about the sulfur smell, I got the same run-around noted in email exchanges above. I complained to Toyota USA and meet with the regional Tech out of Portland, OR, who suggested ARCO Surpreme Low Sulfur Gas and authorized the relacement of the oxygen sensor with no meaningful results. This vehicle stinks, yes it is worse with the back window open, but is is aweful with any window open and even when there all closed. Give it some gas on any hill and look out! I bought the 4Runner for our hiking/biking/snow adventures, but climbing up a mountain with the window open is a horrible experience. What good is the rear window, sunroof or side windows if you cannot open them without being gagged in rotten egg smell. I recieved comments from Toyota: "leave the windows shut". What a disappointment, spent $36K and cannot leave the window down for my dog. I love the vehicle, except for the defective sulfur smell that is emitted into the vehicle.

    Who knows what will happen, Toyota is like the Borg, it's all about the cost to correct a defect versus fighting it, but I'm filing a Lemon Law complaint and keeping up the pressure on Toyota who needs to be accountable for there defect.

    Regards, Bill
  • Goback and read my previous posts. Sulfur not the only exhaust gas inside the vehicle. This is a real safety issue. They will recall soon. The V8s are the worst offenders
  • It happens every so often but was very apparent yesterday when I accelerated down a highway on-ramp. My windows were closed and a few seconds after I merged onto the highway, this terrible smell perfused the cabin. Very unpleasant to have to open the windows at highway speeds just to breath clean air.

    Judging by what others have posted, I'm not even sure if it's worth bringing this to my dealer's attention because of the apparent lack of solutions. Any ideas on where I should focus my efforts in order to (hopefully) get this problem solved?

  • You should consider complaining to your dealer about the smell. If anything, you want it to go on record. might help you in the long run, as well as all the others with the problem. If 1/2 of 4runner owners start complaining to their dealers, you'd only imagine what would start happening and from how many angles. Class action for one...
  • I just finished arbitration and I had to schedule some other work in the service dept. So I was telling the service writer about the problems and he said it was the first he had heard of it. Yea, OK buddy. It's funny how they train service folks how to not hear noises, not smell smells, not see scratchs.......give me a break. Where's John Stossle when you need him!
  • Just thought I'd drop in to see what's going on, same old thing. Good luck to all. Take as many witnesses as possible, including any service personnel and use their own TSB as evidence that they are aware of the problem.
  • Noticed this heavy odor yesterday after accelerating with the tailgate window down. I will experiment with all the windows up. I would also urge everyone with this problem to post a complaint on It only takes a minute and maybe if they receive a large number it will force Toyota's hand.
  • Well, Zues was right. The arbitration rep sided with Toyota. The reason was that he said "the smell is due to the fuel and my driving habits". NCDS was the 3rd party impartial. Right.

    I really am at a loss because during the hearing I told them that the exhaust was inside the cabin, Toyota admitted to the problem and told me to call the EPA and put a tailpipe extender.

    So let me get this straight...Toyota says " we have a problem with exhaust gas getting sucked into the cabin, but it's your fault because you shouldn't push the accelerator that hard? I'll bet my 4Runner that NCDS is paid by Toyota.

    I'm proceeding to the state sanctioned Lemon Law. A real judge will preside over this hearing. Toyota's official word is that it's OK. I'm taking my newborn to the MD just to get checked out.

    What a scam. Just don't give up.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    you have the burden of proof - don't go in front of a judge without something other than verbal statements and written info from a website - you HAVE to provide test data on your rig, or it'll get thrown out.
  • Thanks- I'm a previous instrumentation engineer, I'll hook up a rig or get it done by a env tester. Either way, I think you're right. In front of a judge you need to provide data. For that matter, maybe a 3rd party would be best.

    But really, can you fathom that the Toyota Manufacturing rep says "we have a problem with exhaust entering the cabin in the V8's and you should put a tail pipe extender on". They had a very weak case and they never denied the problem. That's what is so amazing. How could someone hear that and think it's OK. Do you know if NCDS is paid by Toyota?
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