Months after a lawsuit was filed against Honda for using an eco-friendly material experts say attracts rodents, a new lawsuit filed in Los Angeles suggests there could be tens of millions of defective Toyota vehicles and drivers left to pay for thousands of dollars in repairs.
Al Heber says rodents — in this case squirrels — are gnawing away at the wiring inside his Toyota pickup truck. Tired of paying for repairs, Heber's getting creative.
"I've tried a lot of different things, from trapping them to putting cayenne pepper," Heber said. "I've placed mothballs in the vehicle. Finally, right now, we're using cats."
But nothing has worked.
The soy-based coating used to protect wires from the elements is actually attracting the rodents, he says. The issue is causing displays on his truck to malfunction, including the fuel gauge, anti-lock brakes, four-wheel drive and check engine light. They're recurring problems he says Toyota will not cover under his warranty.
So far, he's out $2,200.
"I feel like it's a warranty issue because the materials are poor quality," Heber said.
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His attorney, Brian Kabateck, has filed a class action lawsuit against Toyota, claiming many 2012 to 2016 used soy-based wiring known to be a problem. While rodents have a documented history of damaging vehicle wiring, he says the soy makes the wiring a food source.
"It may have started out as a good idea, an eco-friendly idea. It's just ill-conceived," Kabateck said.
The I-Team first uncovered the problem of rodents chewing through wires in March. At that time only Honda was facing a class action lawsuit. But Kabateck says that Honda lawsuit should have been a wake-up call to Toyota.
"You don't make a product that is edible," he said. "A consumer purchases a car, they don't know this is a problem."
Mechanic Mark Buche says it's not just Toyotas using soy wire coating, though many of his repairs are.
"We've seen ground squirrels, raccoons, we've seen rats," Buche said. "We've been pretty busy."
A repair can run up to $1,500 each time.
The I-Team reached out to Toyota about the soy wiring. The company responded, "We decline to comment."
Toyota has not yet responded to Heber's lawsuit, either.
Uneasy about driving his own truck, Heber feels it's on Toyota to fix this problem for its customers.
"I don't think I could sell this vehicle this way," Heber said.
Heber's attorney does not know how many vehicles Toyota has produced with the soy wiring, but the company sells about 10 million new vehicles every year. The attorney says it's possible this lawsuit could expand to include other years and even other manufacturers using the soy wiring.
Honda said in a statement: "Since there is pending litigation involved, we will not be able to offer detailed comments about that suit at this time. However, before airing a story based on plaintiff's allegations, please research, in general, the long-known history of rodents chewing wires of all types. Rodents' teeth grow throughout their lives, and they are compelled to chew on things, wherever they nest, to keep the teeth filed down. They are known to chew home wiring, car wiring or wires wherever they nest, and, particularly in the winter, they try to find warm locations, like a home or a vehicle's warm engine compartment.
"It is true that Honda has offered a potential solution to this age-old problem by selling a rodent-deterrent tape infused with capsaicin, the core element of spicy peppers, to use in cases where a customer has experienced rodent damage. This is a good solution for our customers who live in areas where rodents like to nest in vehicles."