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#13 – The Corolla from Hell

by | Jun 16, 2016

Joe and Barbara D. purchased a Toyota Corolla diesel in March from a dealer north of Columbus, Ohio. They returned it to the dealership immediately, complaining that when they put the car in reverse it shuddered badly. The dealership Service Manger had never seen this problem and called the Cincinnati Regional Office for help. Their Field Technical Specialist advised the dealer this was a normal condition for a diesel and to replace the clutch assembly and resurface the flywheel.

It did not fix the problem.

Several weeks later, the Field Technical Specialist went to the dealership and drove the car. He agreed that the condition was unacceptable. The specialist contacted the service department headquarters in the national office. He was told this was a normal condition for a diesel and to replace the clutch and resurface the flywheel. In August, five months after buying the car, the work was done a second time and the problem was not fixed.

Frustrated, Mr. D. tried to contact me on the phone—but because there was no fix for the shudder on his Corolla, I avoided his calls. The national office contacted Japan for help and was told this was a normal condition for a diesel and to replace the clutch and resurface the flywheel. Not wanting to do this repair a third time, we told Mr. D. we were still working on the problem. He called again and again, but I avoided his calls.

In September, we were informed there was a Corolla in Europe with the same problem and that we would be sent new motor mounts from Europe to fix the car. A month later, the motor mounts had not arrived. The service department checked the status of the parts and was told that the new mounts were not in the U.S. and none were on the way because there was no record of them having been ordered. Mr. D. was despondent.

I was returning to my office after being out on dealer contacts and had just parked my car when my assistant, Nyoka Haynes, came running up to me. She was flustered and told me not to come in the office. Mr. D. wanted to talk to me and was waiting in my office! She had told him I was out and would not be back, but he insisted on waiting. Showing my true colors, I panicked, hurriedly got back to my car, and drove off.

On November 19, the new motor mounts were located and express-shipped to the regional office. The Field Technical Specialist personally drove to the dealership to install the new mounts. An anxious Joe D. waited for his car, but the new motor mounts were the wrong ones and did not fit. Mr. D. was told that there was no fix for the car and there was nothing Toyota could do for him. His case was unfortunate, but was now closed—or so I thought.

The second week in December at about 10:30 at night, my telephone rang at home.

I answered and the voice on the other end asked, “Is this Davey Illingworth?”

I answered, “Yes, it is.”

“Is this the Davey Illingworth whose father is a Presbyterian minister and his father and mother live in Sun City, Arizona?” he asked.

With a rising sense of alarm I again answered, “Yes, it is.”

“Is this the Davey Illingworth who is the General Manager of the Toyota Regional Office in Cincinnati?”

Now I knew I was in trouble. This sounded like a customer. How did he ever get my home phone number? “Yes, it is.”

“Oh good, I finally get to talk with you,” he said politely. “We received a Christmas card from your father and mother. I called your father in Sun City and told him about my problem with our new Toyota. He said you were very busy, but he gave me your home telephone number and said he was sure you would help me. Your father said that if you couldn’t help me that I should call him back and he would talk to you. My name is Joe D.”

My heart sank and my mind started to spin. I regained my composure and assured Mr. D. there was no need have my father call me. I would “look into” his case and get back to him. I hung up the phone muttering to myself, “Dear God, what am I going to do?”

The next day I called Hal Bracken who was now the Vice President for Service and Parts and told him Joe’s story. Hal suggested that maybe we buy the car back. However, he cautioned me that Toyota had never bought a car back from a customer, and this might be a dangerous precedent. He would check with Japan. A week later we got permission to buy back Joe’s Corolla with the one condition that he replace it with a gas engine Toyota, not a diesel.

On January 7, Toyota bought back Joe and Barbara’s Corolla from hell. It was the first car Toyota ever bought back from a customer in the United States. They bought a new gas engine Toyota Corolla and were thrilled. Their son accompanied them to the dealership that day. He admired a Toyota truck on the showroom and bought it. The family went home that day with two new Toyotas.

“How joyful are those who fear the LORD and delight in obeying his commands…They are generous, compassionate, and righteous…and conduct their business fairly.” Psalm 112:1,4b,5b (NLT)


Joe’s Corolla from hell was behind me. What lay ahead of me was a hell of a different nature, packed with decisions, deadlines, and the relentless pressure to succeed. But why me? Why was I chosen for Flagship 1?

(To be continued in “Why Me?”)