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Sulfur Smell from Toyota 4Runner



  • Hello to everyone with the same problem I am having. I just bought a new 4 runner V8 two weeks ago and have had nothing but a bad smell ever since. My seven year old does not like to ride in the car due to the smell and to tell you the truth I don't like being in it myself. I returned to the dealership and got the same song and dance as all of you that it is the gas and not the car. (They told me it was a regional issue with the gas producers in the TN area but from all that I have read it's all over the US). My question is why when I rode in 02' 4runner did I not smell it. I was told there where new systems in place on the 03's. I made a service tech ride in my car and the end of the ride he told me that I have a big problem and Toyota is going to do nothing for now. He told me he would be very upset if that where his car. He called Toyota for me talked to the higher ups and they told him to tell me roll up my windows and close my sunroof "which rattles when closed that will be my next topic" and resec. the air so I won't smell it as bad. I say BS I paid for a sunroof so that I could have it open. Not happy at all.

    I am not a person that goes out looking to stir things up I usually take things at face value and move on but I just can't stand for this. I am in sales and travel in my car several hours a day over long distances and the smell is killing me not to mention the health ricks involved?? I also ride motorcycles and I can promise you I have never smelled things like is on the bike and you can smell just about everything when you are in traffic on a bike.

    Sorry to go on so much but very upset. Has anyone gone to their local media and tried to alert the public of this. I am going to contact the local news 5 on your side and see if they will air something on this. I know taking on a big company is next to impossible but if I can slow sells in my area maybe Toyota might start looking into this I will let you know the out come. If anyone else has already done please let me know how it turned out.

    One last thing if you have not already done so please call 1-800-331-4331 and lodge a formal complaint with Toyota. They will record it and pass it along to Corp.

    Thanks for your time and I hope we can get something done.
  • I recently inquired at Toyota Canada what was causing the overwhelming odor that occurred under hard acceration, or on climbing a hill in my 2003 V8 4Runner. The following response arrived quickly:

    "The smell that you are referring to is caused by the high sulphur content in Canadian gasoline. The smell is in fact indicative that your 4Runner is operating properly. This is not an uncommon
    situation with most manufacturers today.

    The sulphur contained in the fuel transforms into sulphur dioxide which is then transformed into sulphur trioxide by oxidation and accumulates on the catalyst resulting in hydrogen sulfide by
    reduction. This will generally occur when the vehicle begins to run rich, such as when you are stopped, climbing a steep hill, or braking
    hard to slow down. The hydrogen sulfide is expelled from the exhaust pipe all at once. It is the hydrogen sulfide which is responsible
    for the odour.

    This odour is particularly strong when your vehicle's catalytic converter is new and dissipates gradually as the vehicle gets older.

    We thank you again for taking the time to contact us and for allowing us the opportunity to comment."

    While there is no solution offered here, except time, I found by making sure my back window was closed, I would not get the odor. I often had the window lowered slightly (against owner's manual warnings) when I had my two large dogs with me. I have not experienced the odor with windows closed and/or air conditioning on.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    When a window is cracked open, this creates negative pressure inside the car and is more likely to suck in fumes.

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  • vaughn4vaughn4 Posts: 106
    Again, the problem is not that the car has exhaust odor(s) - all cars do. The problem with the 4Runner is that the odor makes it's way into the cabin regardless. That is a problem!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    I think if an odor is strong enough (like gasoline for instance) any car would have to admit the odors into the passenger compartment. I don't see how you could keep such an obnoxious odor out without suffocating yourself.

    Makes me think all the more it's a combination of certain types of fuel plus the design of the vehicle plus certain driving conditions.

    This is the only way to explain why it doesn't happen 100% of the time to 100% of the cars---unless we could somehow show it is tied closely to certain VIN numbers. That would be interesting, huh?

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  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    Toyota says that the vehicle is operating as designed. Therefore, sulfur and exhaust inside the vehicle was a design objective? Sounds crazy, because it is. Listen, Toyota simply didn't test for this condition. Do you think if they did test for it and found that there was a problem like this they would say it's acceptable? No car manufacturer would ever do that. This is simply a "gotcha".

    I think the question is...

    Is this normal? The answer has to be no.

    Is it "normal" for a vehicle to consistently expose the occupants to exhaust? It certainly is an unpleasant condition for those who are affected.

    I was told to put an exhaust tip on, drive to a different county to get gas, and not accelerate to briskly. If you were told this when you bought the car, would you buy it? By the way, I live in an area where the gas is already re formulated and it still does it. So even if the EPA does change the rules concerning Sulfur content, it won't help me. But then again, sulfur isn't the issue. It's repeated exposure to exhaust for years.

    I've scheduled a Lemon Law hearing and we'll see what the State has to say. If they rule in favor of Toyota, then I'll sell it out right maybe to the same dealer who said there was nothing wrong. I'm going to subpoena the factory rep who said that the vents where placed too close to the tail pipe.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    If that's your argument, you'd better be able to show a CO content in the cabin then. "Smell" is a very subjective thing, kind of like "back pain". You can't see it.

    They might end up treating you like one of those people who are "sensitive to scent products" and demand that the movie theater be cleared lest they faint.

    I know that is not your case, but you can see how the argument could be turned against you if you base it only on an offensive odor that does not occur in all vehicles of the type.

    I don't believe your case is strong enough yet for a buy-back, but I could be wrong and I hope I am for your sake.

    It's also an interesting question you pose regarding why this didn't show up in testing. The reason WHY it didn't show up is also possibly the clue as to what the problem is.

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  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    just because your nose can detect it, it doesn't mean it's at harmful levels.

    Like I said before, my nose (because of my throat) is extremely sensitive - I can smell a cigarette in the next car over at a light.

    It doesn't mean that I have high Marlboro levels in my vehicle, though. The proof is in the pudding - or the test equipment.

    If there's no proof in the test equipment, the rest is just semantics and treading water (and getting tired) when you could safely swim to shore.
  • I was poking through the compartment where the jack is located (rear left) and noticed a long, clear-plastic tube running downward towards the bottom of the rear bumper. Does this mean the air intake port is located under the rear bumper?
  • I have had my 4Runner for about 2 months now. I have the Sport Edition v8 4WD. At first the smell was horrible and would not go away. I noticed it more throught the air vent whether the windows were open or closed. It seems to have dissipated a bit, but to me it is still very noticeable during hard acceleration. I have read many postings here, and wish I had before I bought the vehicle. I too, am in sales and spend many hours a week inside my SUV. I have used every brand of gasoline in SW Ohio, some from Kentucky, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, and Canada. Needless to say, I have not noticed any change from brand to brand. I have not spoken to my dealer yet because A: I figured it was just a 'new car thing' and B: judging by what I've read, I am not quite sure which angle from which to approach this subject. I am only 24 years old and have not had to deal with this type of situation. What are all the options available to me? I don't want to be an arbitration martyr based on principles, I don't think I could afford it. Like I mentioned, it seems to be going away, but what if it gets worse? Any ideas?
  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    Read my previous post on odor threshold. If you can smell, it is hazardous levels.

    I just don't understand how anyone could think that breathing exhaust ona daily basis is "OK". No matter how low the level.

    Why do we have emission standards? To limit the amount we have to eventually breath. Given that, how is this acceptable? There is no "safe" level of emissions that you can breath.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    "If you can smell, it is hazardous levels" just doesn't hold up in court - you need evidence, like the national standard is xx PPM and my vehicle, according to this here test equipment, has xx PPM - higher than allowed.

    You allegations hold up fine here at Edmunds, and I understand you point - lawyers and judges, however, don't care how well you're understood on Edmunds.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    I'm afraid don't see the relationship between smell and a hazard would hold up as evidence either. It's a very thin argument and if you had a clever opponent they would probably demolish your theory, sad to say.

    Unless you can show a hazard level, all you may have is a concentration of CO that may in fact measure as no worse than anyone breathes everyday on the highway. Bingo, you are dead in court.

    Smell is more related to the organic compound itself rather than the concentration I think. One can smell a skunk, or so I've heard, up to 3 miles, (!!)but obviusly the level of concentration is very very minute at the three mile limit.

    Sulphur is a very powerful and pernicious odor. A little goes a long way, like skunk-stuff.

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  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    OK, here the link

    Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is formed when fuel containing sulfur is burned.

    Sulfur Dioxide has an odor threshold. What this means is that if you can smell it, the concentration can be determined. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, the instant you smell Sulfur Dioxide the concentration is known to be 3-5 ppm (parts per million).

    Reference: Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety
    High concentrations of sulfur dioxide can result in temporary breathing impairment for asthmatic children and adults who are active outdoors.
    Short-term exposure:
    o reduced lung function
    o wheezing
    o chest tightness
    o shortness of breath
    Long-term exposure:
    o respiratory illness
    o alterations in the lungs' defenses
    o aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease
    People affected include children, the elderly, and those with cardiovascular disease or chronic lung disease.
  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    According to OSHA, The STEL (Short Term Exposure Limit) is limited to 5 ppm over 15 minutes of exposure. Therefore, if the odor threshold is 3-5 ppm and the STEL is 5 ppm, then if the smell is present in the vehicle for 15 minutes of driving, then the Government standard for exposure has been exceeded. This has occurred on a regular basis since delivery of the vehicle.
    Reference: Safety and Health for Engineers, Roger L. Bauer, ISBN 047128632-X
  • swschradswschrad Posts: 2,171
    can't believe they didn't get you anywhere in the hearing. I guess those were "not-hearing"s.
  • vaughn4vaughn4 Posts: 106
    All I can say is that Toyota should be ashamed of the defective product they have put out and then not taking responsibility for it! Shame, shame, shame on Toyota!
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    all that eloquent and statistical information doesn't mean squat unless you have equipment-produced test data that proves that your vehicle is unsafe.

    I work in this environment - a vehicle owner IS NOT going to be allowed to testify as a chemical engineer.

    If you can't prove it, you're done..why the argument. Prove it or give up.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    Yep, this is a dead end I'm afraid. They will kill you in court with this type of claim. People smell at different levels of capacity. It's a totally subjective claim made by an un-credentialed person.

    Go get the tailpipe extensions OR have an independent laboratory test your car for harmful levels of SO2 and issue you a report That's the only two reasonable alternatives I see that will possibly produce some kind of satisfaction for you. Otherwise I think you are wasting your valuable time in a fruitless enterprise.

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  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    sounds harsh, but it's true - I've testified in 147 various proceedings - arbitrations in PA and NJ, trials in PA and NJ, and two Federal trials. Still each time, I have to go through examination and verification in order to be allowed to testify as an "expert in automotive repair and maintenance, automotive appraisal and dealership sales and service policy/warranty administration".

    It's an uphill fight, every time, just to be able to give an appraisal number on a lemon law case. And I have the experience, licenses and qualifications - I still have to fight to be able to testify.

    A guy off the street hasn't got a prayer. Either get some testing equipment results, or forget about it.
  • You do not need a lawyer. Read your lemon book you got with your purchase of your vehicle. Follow the rules to the letter. Document and keep records of all conversations and repair attempts. Try to note the times and date and names of people that you speak with. The lemon law process is set up for the consumer that has an unsolvable problem with their vehicle and can't get anywhere with the company. 70% of cases are settled before the actual arbitration, but be ready to go when you get your arbitration date. My witnesses were 2 family members and 2 Toyota service managers who experienced the smell personally. I proved lose of value, use, and most importantly , the safety issue. You don't have to be a lawyer to do this, just some time and research. I beat Toyota's lawyer and so can you. Look up Toyota's own TSB on the sulfur smell and use it as evidence. Don't give up. Use the state sanctioned program.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    exception to the rule - totally.

    I'm glad you were successful, but you know what Abraham Lincoln said about someone representing themselves....

    Again, I attest that I've yet to see a successful "sulphur smell" case in my contact with 6,000 cases (3,500 of which I handled).
  • renshorensho Posts: 42
    Why people keep arguing this point with you I'll never know. It is not like you don't want them to succeed with their case; just simply a better chance at winning. But they keep arguing with the advice.
    Pretty simple. Courts and judges do NOT like/hear subjective things from laypeople. They rarely like to hear it from expert witnesses. Facts. Just the facts.

    Raw hard #s are going to win here. How do you argue with that? Toyota can't do it either.

    And yes, Shame on you Toyota. Shame, shame shame.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    Well I can see one possible reason he was successful...he played totally "by the rules of the game"; in other words, he read the book and followed it precisely.

    My experience with arbitrations or legal proceedings is that on the one hand the consumer comes to the table with cries for "justice" and "satisifaction" and other very personal issues while the corporate entity on the other end is just looking at the whole thing as numbers in a column.

    If they "beat" you, they don't gloat over it as a victory, and if you "beat" them they don't slink away and think of it as a defeat. It's just numbers in a column to them, and if the black numbers far outweigh the red numbers at the end of the year they have accomplished the corporate mission. You are either a profit or a write-off to them. Of course, individuals in a corporate entity might very much wish to help you, but even they are still obliged to follow the rules.

    So BY ALL MEANS contest any "wrong" done to you---but all I'm suggesting is that you understand the "system" and play within its rules.

    The Lemon Laws, which vary state to state, were instituted to make this somewhat easier for the consumer, but again, the rules of the game are precise and you have to follow them.

    The issues of "what's fair" and the 'company's duty" are certainly important in theory but all they do is cloud up the matter at hand--which is for you to either dump or correct a car that is annoying the hell out of you.

    You have to approach this as you would laying down a new driveway for your house. Know what you are doing and keep emotion out of it.

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  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    I am a degreed and certified Safety Engineer. I'll be glad to send you my credentials. I do this sort of thing for a living. The fact is that SO2 does have an odor threshold of 3-5 ppm. Go look it up. To take in to account differences in olfactory systems from person to person, they have assigned a range, 3-5ppm. But don't take my word, convince yourself. If you look at the data (MSDS and OSHA regs) it can't be dismissed. It's the very same data that Toyota uses to produce the vehicle in the first place. It's all in black and white. You can assign an odor threshold if it's highly repeatable. They do this to save time and money. By the same token, maybe the Toyota engineer who did this test can't smell. Either way, the smell is there and it's Toyota's fault period. Nothing of my doing causes the exhaust to find it's way to my nose. And lets all agree that this isn't just an unpleasant odor. It's exhaust and do you agree it should be OUTSIDE the car???


    Have you ever used the MSDS for SO2 as a basis for your case?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    I haven't, simply because from a "big picture" perspective, so many cars and trucks emit these same odors, it takes the individuality of the vehicle as applied to the lemon law completely out of the picture.

    Also, since it's not a condition I'd devalue a vehicle over, the lemon law and Mag-Moss don't apply.

    Specific to the V8 4Runner, I haven't seen a case like yours yet - we'll cross that bridge when we get there - with 80 hours and 50 cases a week, I definitely don't need to look for more work than I'm assigned, especially since my opinion on the issue is that I'd be chasing my tail. Or exhaust pipe.
  • ohelloohello Posts: 27
    I rented 03 4Runner SR5 V8 for just over a week. I put a battery-operated home basement-type CO monitor in it for the entire time to see if CO was a problem inside this car. This meter displays in units of 10ppm, so when it detects 9ppm the display reads 0, when it detects 10ppm the display reads 10,when it senses 11ppm it reads 10, and so on.... Not exact, and not certified by zeuslewis, but better than my nose and tending to err on the low side.

    The first night driving 20 or so minutes in the rain with defrost on - from inside DC to the suburbs - I registered 20ppm. This alarmed me and I put a post here just over a week ago. There was a discussion of this CO concentration, essentially many helpful posts citing various agencies with the upshot that this is not a safe level, and zeuslewis offering his opinion (yet again) that only he really understands.

    Over the course of the next 6 days we drove the 4Runner constantly, spent more time than I would have liked in stand-still rush hour traffic, took a 5hr trip out and 5hr trip back, and never registered CO again.

    My feeling is that this exhaust entry into the car the night of the 20ppm was not from the CO that happened to be sitting there on the road. Sure, that is theoretically possible, but exceedingly unlikely on a windy, rainy night - particularly since 1hr in 4 lanes of standstill traffic on a stifling day registered 0. I think that some combination of speed, defrost, weather, and bad luck caused it to enter into the passenger cabin. We never replicated those conditions.

    My impression is that this problem has something to do with the somewhat unique shape of the 4Runner (particularly the square back, and maybe the spoiler), some bad luck on Toyota's part with exhaust and vent placement, and who knows what else. If they had just put on a catalytic converter from 2002 on those 4Runners, no one would ever have known. Unfortunately they put in catalytic converters more suited to 2005 than 2003, made a sulfur stink, and thus highlighted an otherwise invisible problem that may or may not exist in other cars.

    As far as I am concerned, a stink out the back that will disappear in a year or so anyway is not a big deal. Exhaust in the cabin is a big deal. I think that anyone following this forum has reached that same conclusion. My experience is that the conditions that cause the exhaust to come in are quite complex and will be virtually impossible to track down without a substantial research budget. Tacoviva made this point a week ago. Intermittant problems are extremely difficult to diagnose, and when they involve exterior airflow they become quite complex.

    zeuslweis, I suppose that it is now time for you to chime in and list your incredible range of skills and tremendous depth of knowledge.... I am only a PhD researcher running 11 businesses in 4 countries, so probably cannot possibly understand the complex world you live in.
  • tacovivatacoviva Posts: 116
    What can I say....Bravo. It sounds like the most thorough analysis to date. I thought of performing the very same test, but with a CO monitor having a little better resolution, while recording the entire test for court.

    My angle is that if the judge can see the monitor alarm when it reaches those levels, I don't think Toyota could say anything. Then it would be up to them to shoot holes in it with their own test results, which they apparently have yet to perform.

    If the CO monitors we buy in the store are good enough to save human beings in homes, they should be fairly reliable indicators of a dangerous situation in an automobile.

    Where did you place the CO monitor? If it was up front then it was probably a very conservative estimate. I think placing it in the back near the vent would yield a better reading.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    I want to thank you for stepping down from your PhD to do some good ol' street cut downs - not bad, considering I've found a direct opposite reaction when common sense and PhDs meet - the more PhDs, the less common sense.

    My opinion is irrelevant to this matter and what anyone decides to do. What you fail to realize is that I've worked exclusively in lemon law cases for quite a time, and I know what works. Lawyers and judges don't want to hear what you think, how scared you are, or other semantics/dramatics - they want facts - without facts, there can be no ruling in your favor.

    In order for a judge to hold Toyota liable, he doesn't want to hear someone saying "I smell it, can't you smell it?"

    It HAS to be black and white, it has to be one heckuva lot closer in specification and reading than 10 ppm on a home testing machine and it has to be certified, in some way, before the court will recognize it.

    I could care less if you feel more important than I do - I'm trying to help with real world experience and advice - real world experience and my common sense outranks a PhD 2-1.

    Oh, and as of yet, I haven't been rude to anyone, but now you have. See, you DO have one up on me!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 57,376
    I think we are talking about two different things, is our problem here. One is about winning an arbitration and the other one is about facts. These are not necessarily the same thing, as the former is all about strategy, not truth or justice.

    For instance, the entire basis for believing in science is the replication of data, time and time again. No doubt Toyota would challenge that the data cannot be replicated, and that is a skull-crushing good point in an arbitration, IMO. Again, a strategy defeats what might in factbe a perfectly true fact. Another flaw in the strategy is doing the testing yourself seems to me.

    So you do all the work and they do all the strategizing and you get whupped,see?

    On the other hand, I have to admit that arbitrations and even courtrooms can be very wiggy at times, you really never know what the hell is going to happen.

    Speaking just for myself, I've done a lot better in arbitration when I've stopped trying to "prove" something and instead worked out a good strategy to undermine the opponent.

    I remember one case where I was sued for fraud for selling a Porsche---the engine blew up after a while, and the buyer claimed I "hid" something from him. Well, it was a used car I said.Gimme a break. But the buyer came in with all kinds of photos and testimony and mechanics and Porsche experts, blah blah blah, about why the engine blew, and theories about this and that---it was a STUPENDOUS effort.

    Then I told the court that the buyer had taken the car to a 3rd party for a complete inspection prior to purchase.

    "Oh",they said. "Since the buyer did not ultimately rely on you for the decision of making the purchase, we are throwing this case out".

    And that was that. It was all about strategy, about saying the right thing at the right time. Why the engine blew up had nothing to do with it. They got bad legal advice.

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