Girlfriends’ Guide to Life in the Fast Lane: Why Does My Toyota Want to Kill Me?



I’m navigating the road to hell in a 2010 Lexus hybrid, but I started with such good intentions. Not only am I driving a punky little four-cylinder Prius-in-designer-clothing that is the new Lexus HS250H, also known in my house as a Camry with a joystick (for onboard navigation,) but I was the first in my neighborhood to have one. Yay! This car barely makes it up the hill to my home unless I lean forward against the steering wheel and repeat, “I think I can, I think I can.”

If you follow my blogs, you know that I was recently divorced, and this is a time in my life when I’m retooling my image to match my new freedom and independence. I cut my hair quite short, I adopted skinny jeans and worked out to deserve them, I pushed my chef’s clogs (my favorite shoe ever) to the back of my closet and bought several pairs of strappy sandals and peep toes with heels between four and six inches, and I no longer venture outdoors without applying concealer, eyebrows and lipstick with the help of a 10x magnification mirror that allows me to watch my nose hairs grow with the clarity most people watch their Chia Pets sprout.

Needless to say, buying this particular Lexus was about as sexy as wearing big girl panty briefs. I used to fantasize that when I turned fifty, I would buy an azure blue Bentley convertible with cream interior, but I was married then. I adjusted the dream after divorce to an Astin Martin db9 or a vintage Porsche 911. When the time came, however, I caved into the angel on my shoulder and bought a socially correct car that had almost no harmful emissions and sipped gasoline as though through a cocktail straw.

I get no emotional resonance from this putt-putt, except perhaps an unattractive smugness at my sacrifice for all the rest of you people. We, my car and I, have such little chemistry that I don’t recognize it in a parking lot or even when it’s presented to me by a restaurant valet. “Madame, this is your car,” they call out to me, and I look behind me to see the nerd they must be talking to. It’s only because I recognize the little hot pink flashlight and white rape whistle on my keychain that I finally slouch into the driver’s seat.

And, if such sacrifice is good enough for me, you can bet I decided it was good enough for my teen daughter when we went shopping for her first car. After consulting Consumer Reports and visiting dealerships, we went back to the well for another Toyota that is so unattractive that Jay-Z ridicules it in his song “Empire State of Mind”: “Whatchu think I rap for, to push a f-_____g Rav-4?”

You guessed it: my beautiful baby is now driving a black Rav-4. She’s been such a good sport, especially considering her three older sibs drive sexier imports or the “pretend” hybrid that is the Yukon. And, as I said, the universe has acknowledged this sacrifice by keeping even this uninspiring vehicle locked in the garage. I could have just skipped buying her a car completely.

For weeks, I kept the keys from her while we waited to see what Mr. Toyoda was going to offer to fix the runaway car problem. In the meantime, the dealer earnestly advised me to let her drive the car and coach her on what to do if, indeed, her accelerator stuck:

“It’s a keyless ignition, so she can’t just turn the car off, but tell her to keep trying to apply the brake, even though she won’t feel any braking sensation, but she should throw the car into Neutral, which could send her a little out of control and heading toward the windshield, but tell her to stay calm because the car should slow down some after she’s broken the transmission and then she should sloooooowly apply the parking break. Plus, that’s what airbags are for. If none of that works, she can call 911 and a police car or Highway Patrolman can pull up beside her and talk her through it and help her find a soft place to bring the car to a halt.”

Was he telling me she would be looking for a pile of soft mattresses or sand-filled garbage cans into which she could CRASH??? She just recently learned to pull over and stop without having a panic attack when she hears a siren behind her, and this stooge is telling me that she should be able to dismantle her Japanese import at 100 mph? Where are the Lemon Laws pertaining to sales of defective cars when we need them? I’d like to hurl a few hard lemons at that ass.

What fun it’s been though, particularly for me, to wait for my recall notices. I started going on line to take the initiative over two months ago, and last week I get a printed notice in the mail. It’s my investment of about $30,000, not to mention my baby’s LIFE, we’re talking about here.

Her car had some tweaking done to the accelerator, which I’m sure is akin to holding a frog to get rid of a wart. The floor mats were screwed to the floor of the car already, so her Rav was declared “healed.” Praise the Lord!

My Lexus, which was recalled for its tendency to lose control of its bowels or something when asked to brake and adjust to an irregularity in the road, was also recalled. Have these Toyota people ever seen the potholes in California’s 50 year-old freeway system? You can hide a suitcase in many of them. I hope they’re not fooling themselves or us by thinking this is a brand new problem because I’ve experienced it with both my 2008 Lexus hybrid and my new one. It’s like these cars have performance anxiety and just go rigid when asked to multitask.

I played along and took Putt Putt in for the recall and they kept it for a few hours to “adjust the onboard computer for a software glitch.” Funny, a week later, my assistant took it in again, not knowing that I had, and they “fixed” it again. You’d think they might have noticed that it was no longer broken after the first “fix,” but some of life’s mysteries are simply unfathomable.

Guess what they told me the real culprit is in my car’s spastic tendencies—
THE HYBRID ENGINE!! Try to do a good deed, and this is what we get?? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I sincerely believe that when most humans have a choice to get money or get holy, they pick the former. There is no doubt in my mind that neither of our cars is fixed, really.

My growing paranoia convinces me that the Toyotans know that a true repair would be to scrap the entire onboard computer, which is the 21st century equivalent of breaking the frame with a sledgehammer. I’m willing to be a bit risky with my own life, but what am I supposed to do about my daughter’s car?

Hey, Jay-Z, interested in a two-fer? I’ll sell you my Lexus for the pocket change you have on you and throw in a “f_____g Rav-4 for free.

Vicki Iovine – Girlfriends' Guides