2006 Toyota Avalon
Great Car, Substandard Electronics

Click Here to jump to comments from other Avalon owners

Click Here to jump to the comments from a Dealer Employee  (This is a must read!)

This is an In Depth Review of the optional electronics and buying experience from a seasoned technology reporter.

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 (owned by auto giant United Auto), 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 weren't 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 Penske (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.

Car Surveys Are Our Only Weapon

The only way to make a change is to let your feelings be known. While every car salesperson will tell you the importance of filling out the soon to come customer surveys with all "excellents" (good is not good enough), I will never have this opportunity because since my car was returned and my sale negated, my survey will not be tabulated.

The movie Network said it best, "I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Neither should you. An educated consumer is any retailers worst enemy. No matter what you are purchasing, do you homework. Go to the Internet and read about the products you are considering purchasing before you hand over your credit card. Be a smart consumer and let's force the manufacturers and retailers to do its part by simply educating its salespeople.

I don't know about you, but I get excited when make a major purchase. It should be an exciting time and a pleasant experience. Working together, if we demand more by being prepared, not only will we make smarter purchases, we will let the sellers know that if they don't take the time to learn the products they are selling, they cannot and will not earn our business. If a manufacturer cannot and will not fix a defective item, don't live with it, return it. I read the Florida Lemon Law pamphlet that by law, had to be included at delivery of the vehicle. There is a simple sentence in there that states that if a defect adversely affects the "Value" of the vehicle, it could be considered a lemon. In my mind, non working electronics do affect the value of a vehicle.

If I would have kept this car and later sold or traded it, would I have a moral or legal obligation to disclose the defects when they weren't disclosed to me prior to purchase? If the answer is "yes," then does the dealer have the obligation to advise purchasers of an Avalon with the factory installed GPS or Satellite Radio that it will not operate as promoted?

Food for thought.

If you would like to send a comment to the author of this review, you may email andy@pargh.com.

Andy Pargh, The Gadget Guru spent his professional years as America's Leading New Products Reporter for nearly two decades and appeared for ten years on NBC's Today Show, nearly 20 years a syndicated columnist, a featured columnist for USA Today, published three books and his own magazine: The Gadget Guru's Best Stuff. He has appeared on numerous talk shows including Oprah, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Donahue. Pargh is currently retired in South Florida and stays active in charitable organizations and is constantly working to lower his golf handicap. For more about The Gadget Guru, Click Here.

(c) 2006, The Gadget Guru, LLC

Comments from other Avalon Owners

Ken from Texas
I just finished your column on your 2006 Avalon Limited.  We purchased the same car last fall for my wife.  While we are happy with the ride and the gas mileage, the GPS is a joke as your mentioned.  I live in Houston and this system cannot find the straight shot home when I am ten miles away.

I have tested it by asking it to find the quickest route home when I am on loop 610 close to downtown Houston.  I live about 20 miles northwest.  The route is very simple.  Stay on the loop to highway 290, exit onto 290 and go nearly all the way to my house without an exit.  No turns or exits.

This system cannot figure that out.  It has me exit at every off ramp, go to the light, turn left under the freeway, catch the next street north, take it north until it intersects the next street that crosses the highway, then go right and back under the freeway.  I then am instructed to get on the freeway and then it wants me to exit at the next off ramp and go through the entire convoluted process again.

We just finished a trip to Utah and on the way back I decided to have the car tell me the quickest route.  We take this route yearly so have tried every route there is and know which is the fastest.  It gave me the choice of three routes and none of them were the preferred one that I actually took. 
It would be nice if you could tell it the roads to map for you.
I have been frustrated with the points of interest that you mentioned also.
I do feel lucky in that the screen color change to night time does work on my unit.

Other than that I have been happy with the car. Got 32 miles to the gallon for every tank on the trip.  But it is very irritating that Toyota knows they have a useless GPS and still installs it.

Shelly from New York
Just wanted to thank you for your article on the GPS.

This is my 3rd Avalon and while satisfied with the car, the GPS is a source of frustration. The greatest frustration is their unwillingness to fix the problem.

While driving from Maine to a hotel in Boston it instructed me to make a series of turns about 10 miles north of Boston. These instructions turned out to be a loop taking me back to where I started. Coming to my home in upstate NY from the Bronx it kept wanting to take me off the straight, no turn highway to a route that was 40 miles longer.

My salesperson also was unfamiliar with the finer aspects of operation. Too bad, this means if I buy another Avalon it will be a basic one to which, if possible, I'll add my after market goodies.

Eliot from Long Island
I just wanted you to know that I found your article when I was searching the net for a roof mounted antenna for my factory installed Sirius radio system in the 2007 Camry I just picked up. The reception is even worse than you say it is, and I must find an antenna I can have installed on the rear roof (like most other cars). Do you know of any?

I haven't even begun to screw around with the GPS nav system yet....I'm a very experienced computer guy, but these navigation menus are a nightmare.
A call to the Toyota "Customer Experience Center" was a total waste of time. You have far more patience than I'll ever have. Great job on the article & keep plugging. I'll be watching.

Tom from Connecticut
Great article on the Toyota Avalon. I have just test driven a 2006 Limited
and was equally impressed with the overall comfort, handling and features,
although this particular unit was devoid of the GPS option. One would wonder
how a reputable manufacturer like Toyota would even consider not rectifying
the present problem, but would dare attempt to install that problematic unit
in the 2007 models, especially when that unit tops out at a stiff $1900

I am an XM subscriber so I apparently have no hardware issue but I am amazed when I saw the antenna imbedded with in the window. Anyone who has satellite radio surely knows how critical placement is to reception. I am in a tizz over my new car purchase as I have also looked at the Hyundai Azera and was also impressed at the fit , finish and also the dollar value and
10yr/100,000mi warranty.

Thank for the thorough heads up on the GPS.................. If I do the
Avalon it will be without the GPS.

Brian from Virginia
I thought you did an excellent job of outlining the problems with the Avalon.  I own an 05 Limited and have been frustrated with the lack of friendliness of the Nav system.  Iím glad to see Iím not nuts and that the Screen color changes do absolutely nothing for someone else other than me!  I also have been frustrated by the Text not working on the audio system when listening to a CD, i.e. no artist or title comes up on the screen.  They told me at the dealership that not all CDs have this information encoded but my PC displays it when I put it in the CD tray.

John from Florida
Although John is not an Avalon owner, he did submit some good food for thought:

I guess when it comes to electronics most car dealers just pull-out the bad component and plug-in a new one. This would normally work -- but when the product has a basic design deficiency, installing a replacement unit doesn't solve anything.
Do Toyotas manufactured/sold in Japan use the same electronic components?
Interesting that Denso's website claims: "The first J.D. Power and Associates Navigation Usage and Satisfaction Study ranked DENSO's factory-installed navigation system for vehicles highest in customer satisfaction."
By the way Denso is owned 23% by Toyota -- see below:
Denso's First-Quarter Profit Gains 63% on Parts Sales (Update1)

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Denso Corp., Japan's largest auto parts maker, posted a 63 percent gain in first-quarter profit as Toyota Motor Corp. raised orders and a weaker yen helped boost overseas sales.

Net income rose to 58.5 billion yen ($503 million) in the three months ended June 30, from 36 billion yen a year earlier, the company, based in central Japan's Aichi prefecture, said in a statement. Sales at Denso, 23 percent owned by Toyota, gained 14 percent to 856 billion yen in the quarter.

Denso has benefited from increased demand for cars made by Toyota, its biggest customer. Toyota and its affiliates Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co. plan to boost production this year by 10 percent to 9.06 million units. The expansion plan will boost sales and profit at Denso, Aisin Seiki Co. and other parts suppliers.

Denso reiterated its full-year forecast for the year ending March 2007. In April, Denso said profit will rise 2 percent to 173 billion yen, while sales will gain 6 percent to 3.38 trillion yen. Denso President Koichi Fukaya is building a factory in Japan to make injectors, as well as expanding plants in Tennessee, Poland and China.

Under a new five-year plan, Denso said it expects sales of more than 4 trillion yen in the year ending March 2011, up from 3.19 trillion yen in the last fiscal year. It expects to boost its return on equity to 10 percent in fiscal year 2011, up from 9.4 percent in the year ended March 2006.

Shares of Denso rose 2.8 percent to 3,680 yen at the end of the morning session in Tokyo.

Thank you John

Comments from Dealer Employee
The following comment was sent by a person I will only identify as TBone (that is only a partial identification of his email address). Since he or she did not provide a name, phone number or business email address, it is impossible for me to verify if it was truly composed by an employee of a Toyota Dealership. I have not edited the comments in any way. I'm curious as to what you think about it. Feel free to send your comments to andy@pargh.com.

I know you are the gadget guru , because you know alot about gadgets
but what a shame that you know nothing about dealers and manufature's
if you did your so called home work you would know that before any dealer institutes
anything there is trainng from the maker of the product and we are instructed how to install the product so if it is cost cutting your problem is with the gadget maker which you are a pro at. not the individual dealer -it looks like  the dealer went above and beyond for you
sounds like you should apologize and put the blame were it belongs
as you probably figured out i work for a dealer and i am quite upset that someone who knows
nothing about how a dealership is run can comment on how things should be done.
If i lived near Palm Beach Toyota i would buy my next car from them sounds to me they try to make their customers happy and direct them inm the right direction when they have a concern that is out of their control
If you were a real man or so called investigator ?
I know this will never go with the other comments but you should not take things personal
and take your frustration out on a  dealer --- YOU ARE THE GADGET GURU NOT DEALER  GENERAL MANAGER

Here's my email response:

Mr. TBone,

After reading your comments, I am not surprised that you failed to supply your name or position with a dealership. I don't know if you are in sales or service, but I can tell you that my findings are accurate. As you can also see, I'm not the only one that experienced these difficulties.

You also need to understand that the GSM of Palm Beach Toyota, while a gentleman, knew little if anything about the electronic components of this vehicle. Nor was the Service Manager able to answer even the most basic inquiries. Their solution was to give me the Toyota toll free number and as I learned, was a total waste of time. They duplicated the problems and recognized them, yet failed to provide a solution. I still can't believe that knowing the components from Nippon Denso are sub par, they are including the exact same components in the 2007 Avalon. It's a shame, as the electronic components aside, it's a great car value.

As we both know the job of the sales department is to move quantity. I don't know about your dealership, but the sales staff at this dealer provided little if any useful information. Prior to purchase, when I asked specific questions about these components, my salesperson's response was simply: We have so many models to sell, we can't know about all of the features in each model...but I know they work. 

Now, is this the problem of the dealer, or it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to make sure their representatives are properly trained? I think the answer is, a little of both, and with my experience, both are failing in this endeavor.

Now Mr. TBone, what does that tell you? It tells me that quantity is more important than quality to today's assortment of car dealerships. It states that meeting sales quotas are more important than learning about the few products they have to sell. I don't know about you, but I have to pose this question: When you go into a store and receive information that you later learn was incorrect, what would you do about it? Would you do as I did and give them every opportunity to correct the situation, or would you just accept the fact that you made a bad decision based on poor information? Whose fault would that be? Would it be yours, the retailers' or the manufacturer's?

I welcome the opportunity for Toyota to respond to this and have properly notified numerous corporate departments of my findings. They evidently don't care enough to attempt to provide a valid explanation.

Allow me to add that TBone sent a follow up email and revealed his relationship. This is an exact quote and it was sent in ALL CAPS.


I must add, that due to the poorly written letter, I truly doubt that he is who he says he is.


Click Here To Read Follow Up Story On Car Buying Experiences and Suggestions To Manufacturers and Dealers


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