Have you ever owned a lemon?

June 5, 2023

(As in a lemon car, not the fruit!)

I’d heard some horror stories over the years about how car manufacturers will fight to the grave to avoid replacing obviously defective cars. One friend told me last year that he had to take the car manufacturer to court, won the case, got a new car, and had his attorney fees paid.

So I was a bit nervous in January when I sent registered mail to Toyota HQ in Texas telling them that my 2022 Camry Hybrid was a lemon. But the story begins long before this….

I’d been driving a Corolla since 1999 and it’s still running but I don’t trust it for long drives. I debated over getting a Tesla or another EV, or getting a Toyota hybrid. Cari and I love her Highlander Hybrid, so I decided to get a new Camry Hybrid.

I started car shopping in Summer 2021ā€¦when pretty much no one had inventory on their lots. Emailed five Toyota dealers within a 1-2 hour’s drive and no one had what I wanted.

That December, I placed a special order at our local dealer for the most tricked-out Camry Hybrid possible — added just about every option/package possible! šŸ˜… I figured I’d been driving a Corolla for 22 years that was 100% manual in every possible way and had nothing more advanced than a cassette player. And figured my new car might be my last car, so it’s time to splurge.

My sales guy submitted the special order and said he’d let me know when Toyota alerts him that the car was in production.


I checked in each month and the sales guy said he couldn’t find a single Camry anywhere in the country with the combination of options that I ordered. It was literally gonna be a one-of-a-kind car.

Finally, in March 2022, Toyota alerted him that I’d ordered two options that, when combined, were only intended for East Coast dealerships. (Bizarre, right??)

So back to square one. I contacted all the local dealers again to see what was available or on the way. Answer? Nothing like what I wanted. Expanded my search to dealers as far away as Coeur d’Alene (a 3-hour drive for you non-locals). Still nothing.

Then, last May, the Coeur d’Alene dealer said they were expecting a Camry that was really close to what I was looking for. Decided to go for it. Put down a deposit and then waited for it to arrive. Cari and I drove up there on July 31 to pick up the car. Loved it! Beautiful red/maroon color, drove beautifully, really comfortable. šŸ˜

One problem: As we started the test drive, a weird error message came on the dashboard. The sales guy didn’t know what it was. He said to turn off the engine and restart the car. Error message was gone, test drive was great, etc. I was a bit nervous about the mystery error message but more than anything I was tired of waiting for a new car, so we bought it and took it home.

The error message reappeared on the drive home. šŸ˜¬

Cari and I got off the freeway, did some research, and decided it was safe to drive. Called the Idaho dealership, but it was a Sunday and no one was in the service dept. Our sales guy tracked down the service manager at home, and he also confirmed the car was safe to drive — but I should take it to our local dealership right away.

That’s what I did. Turns out the error message was telling me that the sensors the car uses to figure out when I’m about to hit a person or a wall or another car weren’t working. BUT THEY WERE WORKING! The sensors beeped every time I got close to another car or pulled into the garage. When the error message was triggered, it covered the dashboard so I couldn’t see anything, and also turned off the cruise control.

The local Toyota dealer tried everything to figure out why the error message kept showing up. I must’ve taken it in 4-5 times between August-November. There was one point in November when they had the car in their possession more days than I’d had it in mine. They had service techs come in from other states to look at it, and nothing they tried worked. Without ever using the word “lemon,” the local service guy made it pretty clear that they’d run out of options.

That was around Thanksgiving. I’d been researching the Idaho lemon law already, which (among other things) says once I declare the car a lemon, I have to give the dealer one more chance to fix it.

The wording wasn’t clear, so I thought that meant I had the give the Idaho dealership a chance to fix it. It was already snowing a ton up in Spokane/CDA by this time, and I was not gonna drive three hours in that weather in that car. So we waited until late January to start the process. Figured it would take 4-6 weeks for the legal paperwork to process and for Toyota to decide if they were gonna fight me or replace the car. If we needed to go back to Idaho in March, okay.

Well, it only took two weeks. Got a notification from Toyota on Feb. 15 that they were gonna do the right thing and replace my car! Placed an order for a 2023 version of the same exact Camry Hybrid with all the same options — and one extra: a heated steering wheel, which Cari’s Highlander has and was really helpful for my nerve endings when I drove her car over the winter.

Picking up the car today was interesting. No one at the dealership had any idea how to process a lemon — because it was so rare for a Toyota! One person said she’d never done a lemon replacement in all her time there. One guy said they haven’t done one since 2009, which tracks with what the service guy told me last fall. He said he’d been working in their service dept. for 15 years and only had one car they couldn’t fix. But it only took about an hour to do all the paperwork and drive awayā€¦not too bad. Toyota had given them very specific instructions on what to do, so it was pretty quick and painless.

The new Camry is black because they said there was a backlog of red orders and I’d have to wait another month or two if I wanted red again. But that’s okay. It matches Cari’s black Highlander and I love it!

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