Many cars and trucks are covered with road salt this chilly February – salt that is not good for the underside of cars. In most cases, a car wash removes it, and there is no long-term harm.
But for owners of some popular pickup trucks, salt is even more dangerous, because it can destroy their truck's frame.
What's worse, though, is that a special warranty extension to replace those frames is running out, and many owners don't know about it until it is too late.
Beautiful truck, but rotting underneath
Jeanne Middleton's 2004 Toyota Tacoma has been a trusted friend for a decade, its paint still shiny and unblemished.
But that all changed in recent weeks, when the Cincinnati woman says, "I heard something almost like a boom."
The pickup started swerving, so she took it to a local repair shop and got some bad news. It was something far worse than a bad tire.
"They said the frame was cracked, that it was rusted and it was unsafe to drive," she said.
Certified mechanic Mike Fehler lifted the truck on a rack in his shop for us, and showed the extensive rust underneath.
He believes it needs new frame rails, or the whole truck bed and rear end could fall off.
"Basically, where the leaf spring mounts to the frame this is load bearing," he explained. "It is essential what holds the bed onto the truck."
He told Middleton he had heard of an extended warranty for this exact issue, but that's where things got even worse.
Safety recalls and warranty extensions save lives and save owners money, in this case thousands of dollars in potential frame repairs.
But if it is not an NHTSA (government)-ordered safety recall, automakers set a window on them and, typically after 10 or 15 years, will not pay for a repair anymore.
That's happened with Jeanne Middleton's truck.
"They said there was a limited recall and it expired in 2019," she said.
Warranty extension nearing its end for many owners
A call to Toyota confirmed that Middleton had just missed the warranty cutoff date.
Toyota, in 2016, settled a class-action suit by agreeing to spend $3 billion to repair millions of Tacomas, Tundras, and Sequioa SUV's with rusting frames.
Model years affected are from 2004 to 2008 (or 2010 in a few cases). This follows an earlier extended warranty affecting Toyota trucks from 1995-2003.
But there's one catch: the program expires 15 years after the date of manufacture.
Middlteton never saw a notice.
"I had the car in 2019 but did not receive any kind of notification it was expiring," she said. She believes any letter about the warranty extension may have been sent to the previous owner.
So don't let this happen to you, no matter what brand vehicle you own.
- Make sure your car's manufacturer has your current address, for any recall or repair bulletins.
- Ask your shop to inspect the underside when you bring it in for an oil change.
- Check your car for recalls at www.recalls.gov to see if you have any outstanding safety issues. All you have to do is enter your car's VIN.
- Some states, like Ohio, now notify you at plate renewal time if your car has an open recall.
"I would love to keep my truck," Middleton said. "I am sure it can go another 100 thousand miles."
But it now needs a $7,000 frame repair in order to do that.
We spoke with a Toyota corporate spokeswoman, who promised that customer service would contact Middleton about some possible options.
But she would not promise a free repair, as the campaign ended a year and half ago for her model.
A more recent class-action lawsuit claims Toyota 4-Runners can be susceptible to the same premature frame rot, but that case is still pending with no settlement.
As always, don't waste your money.
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