Mike fixes his 2007 Toyota Sienna (Engine, VSC and ABS lights go on and off at once)

My ‘check engine’, ‘VSC’ and ‘ABS’ lights began coming off and on (all together) at seemingly random times over the last couple months. Every time my appointment with Toyota would arrive, the lights would go back out. But that didn’t stop my local Toyota dealership from giving me a diagnosis and quote for repair. For $140 they were kind enough to scan my vehicle and tell me that I should replace two sensors to fix the problem (a code “P0031”) for a further cost of $980.

The lights promptly went away so I relaxed a bit, and just hoped that I would never see them again. But they came back. Necessity forces one to find new solutions to a problem, and so I decided to take matters into my own hands. For $60 I purchased a nice and sturdy code scanner for cars that are 1996 and newer. I plugged it in under my dash, and got a code: again, it read P0031. But this little machine was kind enough to tell me that only ONE sensor needed replacing according to that code: a ‘bank 1, sensor 1.’

A quick call to Toyota revealed a $320 price tag for the part, and they would install for about $140. That’s only $460 if my math is correct, and the difference up to the $980 must have been attributable to the other mystery sensor that they thought needed replacing. At any rate, having been quite irritated with Toyota at the high prices, I did a bit more research: a company named ‘Denso’ actually makes these sensors for Toyota, and you could buy them on Amazon for $120, including shipping to Canada.

Now, I also learned that many times sensors actually don’t need to be replaced, but can be cleaned. In this case, internet research revealed that the sensor in question was located in a horribly inaccessible place – not something that you would want to pull out, clean, install, and then have to do over again if it didn’t work. So, I paid $120 for the new sensor (the exact same sensor Toyota wanted $320 for, but it comes in a Denso box instead of a Toyota box). Further, since I didn’t want to buy a sensor socket and spend three hours cursing underneath my van, I paid Toyota $140 to install. Total cost: $260. Or, including the scanner which I will use first from now on: $320. This is a far cry from $980, and indeed, the lights have not come back 🙂 And if I could have easily reached the sensor (which might happen the next time) my total cost would have only been $180, including the scanner!

I learned a few things on this fix. The most important one is that a dealer can charge you $140 to scan your vehicle – a process that literally takes about 2 minutes, and can be performed by yourself and a scanner for as cheap as $20. Buy a scanner, and never pay for this initial troubleshooting exercise again.

Further, identical parts are grotesquely marked up for resale purposes by car companies, never mind parts that are made by different companies (aftermarket versions). A little research can pay off big time here.

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