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The Horror Story

I think the only way I can bring home to readers the affect Toyota and Salvador Caetano have had on my business and life is to recount it in full. This is a lengthy description. If you get bored, sorry, but please do read the end notes at the bottom.

By way of introduction I would like to say that my business had been built up since 2000.

The secret of our success has always been quality. Quality of guiding, quality of support materials for passengers, quality of presentation methods and quality and comfort of vehicle.

My own background has been over thirty years in the highest quality sector of the tourist industry. Today I run an exclusive tour company, am Chairman of our local Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Loch Ness Destination management company.

In 2003 we chose the Toyota Caetano Optimo V from a number of possible vehicles because it looks superb, is comfortable, quiet and could be adapted to allow us to make AV presentations on board. We then had it specially sprayed and put on nearly 2,000 of livery.

People all over Scotland talked about the quality of our operation and we were, without doubt, the most highly acclaimed day tour in the whole of Great Britain. We were featured in all of the important guide books and our tour, including this vehicle, has featured on BBC World, Channel Four and many, many travelogues.

Almost every single passenger took a photograph of our bus as a souvenir. In addition thousands of other tourists have photographed our vehicle (owing to its livery) when it has been standing in the parking areas of local tourist attractions. It was a permanent advertisement for our tour and the Toyota Salvador Caetano vehicle!

Our whole operation is based on providing superb quality from the vehicle to the narrative and audio visual presentation. We also offered a very individual and personal service and had just a single coach.

The nightmare scenario which I am about to recount was not of our making and although I must thank Toyota Technical Services for relieving some of the problems, the original problems were all the result of distance diagnosis by Toyota Salvador Caetano.

We are, however, seriously out of pocket over this affair and unhappy with Toyota over the effect their advice has had on our business, ultimately forcing us to close down the operation and sell the business at a knock-down price.

Phase One

On Tuesday 5th April 2005 I was returning to the drop off point with passengers and was running low on fuel.

Immediately after dropping the passengers I drove to the nearby Morrisons supermarket filling station. After I had turned in, however, I discovered a sign that said closed for alterations. They were also erecting signs which meant that the normal two lane flow out of the supermarket was restricted to right-only and the usual left-turn filter was closed off. This had caused a huge queue within the supermarket car park and I had to manoeuvre my coach around that car park and onto the end of the queue of vehicles waiting to leave.

I therefore found myself in an horrendous situation and did not get out of that car park for over twenty minutes all the time the fuel was running lower and the gauge was now on empty.

The next nearest station was only about half a mile away, but would involve a drive or more like three quarters of a mile owing to a one-way system.

I turned onto the road and was still running fine, but knew that running out could necessitate bleeding the system which I didn't want to have to organise after normal working hours. For this reason I had made a conscious decision to stop at the first splutter and walk to the garage with a container we kept in the boot.

I was almost at the garage when the vehicle coughed and I immediately pulled in to the side of the road and walked to the nearby station and filled my diesel can.

I then poured in the diesel, crossed my fingers and breathed a sigh of relief when the engine started. It started first time and ran absolutely smoothly.

Next I filled up with diesel at the garage and headed back to base, where we normally keep the bus, a distance of about 18 miles.

The bus ran perfectly smoothly, accelerating normally and at normal sound levels until I had covered about 16 miles then suddenly the engine light came on and the engine would not rev above about 2,000rpm.

I drove very gently at even fewer revs until I got to my parking area then I called D&E coaches who did our servicing.

I could not get hold of our normal engineer directly that evening, but was advised by D&E that some dirt may have been stirred up by running low on fuel and it would probably settle down and be fine the next day.

Sure enough, the next morning it was fine and once the engine was fully warmed up I tried heavy acceleration in various gears and everything was fine. The vehicle performed perfectly.

I spoke to the engineer at D&E and let him know it was now OK and he said he had been pretty sure it would be.

I must emphasise here that although it appeared that the running low on diesel and the engine light were connected faults, it now appears that they were entirely unconnected and coincidental. The REAL fault, a tiny switch, was what ruined our business. Nothing to do with the low fuel at all. It is, however, important to see the sequence of events so that Toyota's bad behaviour over this whole affair becomes clear.

Phase Two

On Wednesdays we have a complicated tour which involves some people joining us at 9.30am and others joining us at 2pm while our morning passengers are enjoying a village eighteen miles from the departure point.

Imagine my horror when, after 62 miles perfect operation, just as I approached the departure point at 1.40pm with some 12 people in the village and 3 more to collect at 2pm, the engine light comes on again and the revs are once more restricted to less than 2,000 revs.

I rang D&E who asked me to bring the bus directly to their workshops and offered me a 16 seat minibus as a stand in for the afternoon. Our tour is all "talk talk talk" and there was no microphone on the bus. That was a serious problem for me, but better than no bus at all.

The D&E engineer drained the system, replaced the filter and re-primed the fuel system. He then test drove the vehicle a reasonable number of miles and it ran perfectly. This was not free of course.

Meantime, I was left with a seriously delayed tour, passengers anxious at our whereabouts and our quality image badly damaged.

The next morning I brought in the D&E minibus and collected the Toyota Salvador Caetano. I cleaned it, went to the Youth Hostel for our 9am pick-up and drove the one mile down to our city centre pick-up point. Just as I arrived on comes the engine light!

I had two passengers on board and another twelve to pick up and no bus.

I rang D&E and they couldn't help. They had no spare bus.

At that moment, on the verge of having to cancel my tour for the first time ever, a friend who was also a tour operator, walked over to me and asked what the problem was.

Unbelievably he had just cancelled his day tour owing to insufficient numbers and offered to lend me his 16 seat Mercedes Sprinter bus for my tour that day. Someone, at least, was smiling on me.

I parked my bus on Inverness river side and took over the Sprinter. At the first stop I rang home and we checked how many passengers we had pre-booked over the next period and which of them we may be able to contact.

This resulted in us being able to cancel some days, hire the Sprinter for others and hire a rental bus (see picture of that here) for three other days..

I should add that although the Sprinter bus had a rudimentary PA system, it did not have the AV equipment and radio mike system which is integral to our LIVE+AV Presentation which people pay a premium to experience. We partially refunded every passenger. Yet more salt rubbed into the wound. Would that Toyota took their responsibilities so seriously!

Phase Three

I had no passengers that afternoon so tried to get the situation resolved.

Firstly I rang D&E and the engineer said there was little else he could do and that I should contact the manufacturers.

I then got on to the phone to Toyota Salvador Caetano in Heather, Leicestershire who I had been told by the sales agents, were the main service agents.

I rang and was put through to the service department and explained that I had run low on diesel and the engine light kept coming on after a few miles, going off sometimes after being switched off and then reappearing some miles later. I said that it occurred anywhere between one mile and sixty-plus miles and that the vehicle ran perfectly when the light was not on (the fact that it ran perfectly the rest of the time is a vital clue to the whole story and should have been spotted by Toyota).

They, and this is a very important factor in this catastrophe, immediately and without hesitation told me that they knew what the problem was and that they had had at least one previous case where an Optimo V had run completely dry and said, "the diesel pump had to be reset and recalibrated". I was told to contact Silver Coachlines in Glasgow as they were the agents for the Optimo V in Scotland. I was given their phone number. This is where things started to go wrong with Salvador Caetano's involvement. This bus was under warranty and should surely have been dealt with by them. It should not have been down to me to contact third parties.

However, I rang Silver Coachlines and when I spoke to their service department I was told, "we have never even seen an Optimo V".

I was really unhappy about having my bus towed, at God knows what expense, more than 150 miles to Glasgow just to have a pump reset and recalibrated. I now understand that the cost of the tow would have been covered under the warranty, but no one ever advised me of this. Again I was let down by lack of support from the manufacturers.

I rang Salvador Caetano again and explained what Silver Coachlines had said. They did not seem at all phased by the fact that the main agent they had referred me to had never seen an Optimo V.

Then they told me that "the pump would have to come out anyway" and that it could not be reset and recalibrated while attached to the vehicle. They explained that they use a pump specialist in Northampton and the pump has to be removed and sent to them for resetting and recalibrating. This company was Midland Battery Specialists in Northampton.

At this point I must raise the issue that it is extremely bad practice to try to diagnose a fault over the phone. Salvador Caetano should have insisted on either sending an engineer up or on having the vehicle recovered to Heather. If this had been done then and there we would probably not have been involved in so much unnecessary expense.

I advised D&E Coaches that we had to remove the pump and D&E Coaches' owner, who considered this totally unnecessary, went to friends at the local Toyota car agents and asked them if they could attach their computer and check it out. I had no idea such a system might exist (this is several years ago remember).

We took the vehicle to the agents and the computer showed no error codes at all. Again all of this should have been part of Salvador Caetano's fault diagnosis procedures. Why was someone having to make such suggestions when I now know there was a full coach fault diagnosis program down at Heather in Leicestershire.

Because the vehicle ran perfectly when the engine light was not on, the D&E Coaches' engineer was still certain it could not be a problem with the pump (remember this later) and was pretty sure it was a software problem and asked me to disconnect the batteries for more than eight hours over the weekend hoping that the system may reboot itself. He felt certain that it could not be a pump problem because the vehicle ran perfectly when the engine light was not on. Salvador Caetano were told all of this.

We disconnected the battery and, after 36 hours and then a 36 mile test run we thought it was cured, but then, when we stopped for a coffee, the moment the engine went to idle on the engine light came again! It was becoming a factor, which we hadn't noticed before, that the light came on as revs dropped to idle and/or if you made a leisurely gear change.

It seemed that there was no choice but to remove the pump. It should be noted that there was no follow up whatsoever from Salvador Caetano and I had to ring them to get all the details of Midland Battery Specialists. They obviously couldn't have cared less about us.

Phase Four

The way the engine is ensconced it is extremely difficult to get access to the diesel pump and it took 7 hours to remove it.

I had arranged with Midland Battery Specialists to drive down to Northampton with the pump. They promised to be ready for it for 8am the next morning and said I could wait while it was reset and recalibrated. As we only have one car I had to hire a vehicle for this drive. Yet more expense!

By this time my business is heading towards real problems letting people down and I rang Salvador Caetano and blew up one of the directors, telling him what I was having to do.

Very quickly indeed we were contacted by Toyota Technical Services (why didn't this happen earlier?). I told them what action was being taken and they said to let them know what the result was.  At this point they could have told me to take it directly to the Toyota technical department, but they did not do that.

I arrived at 3am in Northampton (what a dump of a town) after a 500 mile overnight drive and it took me another hour to find any accommodation.

At 8am I was sitting outside Midland Battery Specialists, who I had been told by Salvador Caetano was the only firm they knew of in Britain who were able to do this work. It was a grubby shed of a building with an adjoining domestic garage full of batteries. I was NOT impressed!

I was even less impressed when, after a 500 mile dash I was told he was subcontracting the work to another firm/department/section and they had something else on test. I had arranged to be there at 8am and was promised immediate attention and then I was treated as if I'd just driven around the corner! Every day my business was haemorrhaging turnover and profit.

Later in the day I was advised that the pump had been disassembled, cleaned, reassembled and was on test.

Later still I was told that the pump needed more than 2,000 of spare parts and was as good as a total write-off! From running low on diesel (as we had thought, when in fact it later materialised this had not caused the problem)? How can this be so? I was also charged 352 for the inspection!

I spoke to Toyota Technical Services again who, I must add, had from first contact been nothing other than completely helpful and supportive, in words anyway.

They told me that they would get a replacement pump up to local Toyota agent by courier and I should arrange for the original pump to be with them for collection on Friday morning.

Another 500 mile journey and I got the pump to the agent, but no sign of the new pump. It did turn up the following Monday (see Spares), I rushed it to D&E Coaches and some 7 hours labour later it had been fitted tested and was running fine. Calculate the cost of all of this for yourselves at specialist garage prices!

Phase Five

D&E Coaches' engineer suggested I take the coach for a really long test run.

After 27 miles the engine light comes on again!

I was absolutely devastated, and, I must admit, heartbroken.

This coach was the biggest investment of my life, we were heading into a vital third season and my beautiful, specially liveried and equipped bus was totally useless! Can any of you reading this appreciate how this felt? Remember that I am a single vehicle operator. This coach was not part of my business - it was my business!

Not only that, but I had now incurred a great deal of expense - over 14 hours of engineer's labour plus the cost of the pump inspection, all the travelling, hotel accommodation and loss of business and reputation. This horror story, by the time you finish it, will have PROVEN BEYOND DOUBT that none of this was my fault and it was IN FACT all Toyota's fault and THAT is the basis for me wanting compensation.

However, Toyota Technical Services again dealt with me efficiently and courteously and said they wanted the bus taken to the local Toyota car agent again for another computer test. I was asked to get the engine light to come on first.

I duly did this (a thirty mile drive this time), but, once again, no fault showed up on the Toyota computer.

Toyota Technical Services told me they were arranging for a special computer program on CD to be sent to the local car agent (this was the first clue I had that there was a special coach diagnosis computer program. Why?)

Some two or three days later (I obviously wasn't important enough to warrant a courier) the new program arrives and the computer shows an accelerator cable loose. The car agent adjusts it and I drive off. All the time my business had been seriously damaged. We now know that that particular computer data had been misdiagnosed so don't breath a sigh of relief yet.

I tested it for over sixty miles and drove it with great anxiety for more than a week before I could feel confident that the problem was not going to recur.

Diagnosis at a distance had caused all of these problems and all of this crippling expense, when it all appeared to be just a loose wire. Someone is responsible for this and it is not me! However, we were soon to discover that the diagnosis was wrong after all.

Phase Six

Just when we were finally getting our confidence back, on comes the warning light again. The car agent checked the accelerator again, unplugged and re-plugged it in again and the problem goes away.

The problem starts to occur regularly and Toyota Technical Services arrange for a new accelerator unit to be sent up and in the meantime I have to plug and unplug the cable several times a day to get rid of the problem. This wrecked my home life completely with all the call outs by my guide to come and have to do that. In the end we found we could get away without having to work on it by pulling over to the side of the road every time it happened, switching off and waiting a few minutes. Usually it did not appear again when we re-started, but can you understand the effect of this on a professionally narrated guided tour on a tight schedule with Scotland's highest ever star rating.

Finally the accelerator unit is replaced and we believed the problem would be gone once and for all.

At this point I was probably prepared to take the costs on the chin, but this is not the end of this sorry tale, and, frankly, why should I be forced to pay for all of this?)

I had intended taking all of this up with Salvador Caetano at the end of the season, when I would have time to deal with it. The problems about to occur in August, however, increased the amount of inconvenience, expense and loss of business into five figures! Read on.

Phase Seven

On Sunday 14th August at 6pm in the evening I receive a call from my guide saying that she has a serious engine judder and noise. This call came from a village in the middle of nowhere over twenty miles from base.

This was heart-stopping news for me. It was the beginning of the busiest week of the year!

My first call was to D&E Coaches and to my horror I find that they are in the process of dealing with the fire brigade and police as someone had vandalised and attempted to burn down their workshops about an hour earlier. They could not get a coach to us or deal with any mechanical problem.

After several calls - this was a Sunday night remember, I eventually managed to get a local service bus company to come to our assistance with a 29 seater ancient Paxton service coach.

My passengers were whisked away after costing us drinks in a local bar and I was left waiting for DAF emergency help to come. They arrived about 60 minutes later. As an aside to this, if my vehicle is covered under RAC during the warranty period why did no one tell me this? This tow-in cost me another 400! That really rubs salt into the wound! I hope this helps explain to readers why I am so unhappy about the whole incompetent affair and the lack of financial recompense.

The engineer and I test drove the vehicle for three or four miles and the engine noise was intermittent. Driving with the engine cover off, every now and then (but not particularly when the engine was under torque) it juddered and shook from side to side almost like it was missing, but with a noise too.

The DAF engineer decided it was too risky to drive it back to Inverness so asked me if I wanted a double-time tow vehicle out on the spot or whether to save money and get it towed in first thing in the morning. I chose the latter and it still cost 400 which I should not have had to pay!

In the morning the manager of Norscot Truck and Van rang me and said that although it was being towed into them, he could not even look at it for over a week! I remind you that I am a single vehicle operator and this was the peak fortnight of the season! The profit made in these two weeks is more than that made in January to April combined.

I left messages for Toyota Technical Services who said they'd come back to me. Obviously D&E Coaches were totally out of commission with their workshops burned down.

I made every effort to hire buses, but could get nothing as the Scottish schools go back on 16th August so had no choice but to buy a second hand LDV from Norscot Truck and Van which, fortunately had a current PCV MOT and had been safety tested.

We cancelled all bookings over sixteen persons, purchased a portable PA system and spent nearly three hours valeting the vehicle at 5am to get it ready for the day.

After that we had to run this vehicle, turning away ten passengers each morning and afternoon from 16th August through to 30th August inclusive. Just imagine the losses!

We also had to provide 5 per head refunds owing to the poor quality of our vehicle and the lack of our AV equipment to provide our advertised LIVE+AV Presentation. That is 16x5 = 80 twice per day straight off the top of our profit. In addition, we had to turn away ten people every morning and afternoon who would normally have been booked during these two hugely busy weeks. This cost us 10 seats x 2 trips x 20 x 14 days = 5,600 (less cruise and admissions of 2,000 means a loss of profit of 3,600 plus the 2,400 in refunds making a bottom line loss of about 6,000).

However, when, as usual, Toyota Technical Services spring into their smooth and capable operation (Roger Phipps this time), my bus gets towed to Salvador Caetano in Heather, Leicestershire and I assumed it was going to get absolute priority.

No one contacted me, so, on Friday 19th August, after the bus has been at Salvador Caetano for at least two days, I call them to find out what is going on. I am called back by the service manager, Colin Wells, who tells me that they have only test driven it and it may be a fuel blockage, but that they may not be able to look at it before the following Wednesday owing to staff holidays and other work, and if it is something serious they may not be able to even start on it until 26th.

WHY IS THERE SO LITTLE SPARE CAPACITY AT ALL OF THESE COMMERCIAL GARAGES? Is the drive for profit, profit, profit so great that customer service just has to get stuffed? It seems so!

I get back onto Toyota Technical Services who tell me that both of the people I have been dealing with are on leave, but Ken Nixon promises to call me back after speaking to Salvador Caetano.

This he did telling me that it would be looked at by Salvador Caetano on Monday 22nd August and if Salvador Caetano could not deal with the repair immediately it would be taken to Broxwood Vehicle Specialists in Wolverhampton. Ken also said that they would look at the possibility of compensation and, I must admit, this did make me feel a lot better. My business cannot stand these sorts of losses.

On 21st August two passengers went to board our LDV and insisted on a full refund so that they could take our competitors' tour. This is horrific for us. Even with a 5 refund they wanted to go with our competitors, such was the impression this LDV was making on them.

Years and years of building the reputation of being the finest tour in the whole of Scotland, perhaps the whole of Britain, is being torn away from under us. It is horrendous!

Anyway, Colin Wells eventually contacts me to tell me that when they looked at the problem they discovered that the fuel pump may not have been fitted properly, that there was a broken lug (?) on the engine or the pump, that a bolt was lying loose in the engine housing, that one of the brackets was broken and the other bracket was missing. This appeared to be a clear criticism of D&E Coaches' work. All our experiences with D&E Coaches had always been completely satisfactory and we had always been pleased with their attention to detail.

We were then contacted by Roger Phipps of Toyota who said that there was a problem getting the replacement bracket and that it would not be in stock until, possibly, the 31st August. This was disastrous for us as we had a long-standing booking of 23 people for 1st September. I had made everyone aware of this commitment previously. I began ringing coach companies to find out if I could hire something. We found one vehicle available at a huge cost of nearly 400 - this would have meant a loss on the day.

However, Salvador Caetano said that they felt that the bracket could be fitted later and I asked for assurance that this would not cause a further problem. They were confident it would be OK and Ken Nixon said that the bracket would be sent to the local car agent for fitting later.

On 29th August I flew down to Birmingham, stayed overnight and arrived at Salvador Caetano in Heather by about 8.30am. I was asked to wait while they checked their incoming supplies in case the bracket had arrived early and could be fitted before I drove off. I should point out that their Sales Director Mr Russell (?) had offered a bracket off a new Optimo V, but they did not take up his offer.

As it happened the bracket was not there and I was assured it would be OK to drive it for the period until the bracket arrived in Inverness.

I would also like to point out that I had Salvador Caetano give the bus a B service, which was not quite due and also a PCV safety inspection while it was there. I wanted to be absolutely confident it had been thoroughly checked by the main agents in case anything else was wrong. Remember that there was an implied criticism of D&E Coaches who had been doing my servicing so I wanted to be absolutely sure everything was right.

I drove the 470 miles back to home and guided the tour on 31st August and 1st September. I hand over to my guide to take the tours on Friday 2nd, Saturday and Sunday.

Phase Eight

At about 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon, 3rd September, knowing there were twenty five passengers on the afternoon trip, I get a call from another local tour operator to say that they had encountered my guide in the middle of nowhere, broken down and out of mobile phone range. The message was that the engine light had come on and she was going to try to limp out of the glen, which is a very narrow single track road.

This is less than a week after the full service and the pump being reinstalled!

My first reaction was to ask that local operator if he had a coach which could collect my passengers and return them to the departure point. He couldn't. There was no answer from other local operators - Sunday again - so that left us in two minds what to do.

Should I get my wife to take me the eighteen miles from home to our departure point to collect the LDV first or should we go the fourteen miles in the opposite direction in the car to see if we could find our guide and see if the problem was just the 2000 rev problem or if it was juddering etc. again. If the former then we could limp back to the departure point with the passengers. If the latter then I would have to drive the twenty plus miles to Inverness to pick up the LDV and also to organise a twelve seater taxi (at heaven knows what cost) to enable me to get all of our twenty-five passengers back to the departure point. They would all have to be compensated too. We really do take all our customer relations commitments and responsibilities very seriously. We excel in everything we do. Unlike Toyota or Salvador Caetano it seems.

Anyway, we make the decision to go to the coach first and found our guide with the bus in a rough parking area.

She described what had happened as a serious juddering and engine light coming on, then cutting to 2,000 revs. She ran for a mile or two like that, then the engine died completely.

I tried starting the vehicle but it was absolutely dead. A dead engine could be fuel, but then I noticed that there was no engine light showing on the dash when we were trying to start it. This indicated that the problem could be electrical and I opened the nearside front flap. We jiggled the emergency engine cut off cable and the engine light came on and the bus started absolutely normally.

I asked my guide again whether the first problem really was a judder, engine light and cut in revs or whether it was just the engine dying. She assured me it was the engine light and cut in revs accompanied with a sort of juddering.

We appeared to have two problems.

I drove the bus for a while and stopped and started it a couple of times then, at about thirty miles per hour on a long single track section the whole engine dies on me.

Once again we jiggled the emergency engine cut off cable and it solved the problem - to the relief of all the cars which had backed up in both directions, causing chaos in clearing them owing to the small passing places.

I pulled in at the next opportunity and bound a piece of wood around the emergency engine cut off cable to hold it without kinks. This seemed to have solved that for the time being.

I found no other problem driving the bus. It pulled fine and no sign of the engine warning light or any juddering, although the engine did seem noisier than normal. It is easy to imagine such things however. I thought my guide had maybe remembered it wrongly because of the previous troubles.

However, after we met up at the departure point later, now nearly 9pm, she insisted the fault was a judder and engine light and low revs and also said that it seems lumpy when it is driving as if it is missing.

Phase Nine

I still decided that it felt all right to me and drove it as hard as possible back to base to test it. I was also to be guiding the next three days - 5th, 6th and 7th September.

My wife commented to me when I was idling to extract the tacho that the engine seemed noisier than usual and I bit her head off. I now realise I didn't want to believe there was yet more wrong with my beautiful bus.

On the 5th it handled OK, but once or twice I felt it may have missed. I also heard a sort of pinking sound when the engine was at mid revs in fourth, fifth and top gears.

On the 6th I had to traverse a steep hill (about one in seven) and I only had seven passengers on this part of the trip (others were at tourist attractions nearby). Normally, with seven passengers I would have zipped up this hill in third, but not today. I was forced to change into second after only about fifty metres and as it pulled in second there was a definite staccato exhaust sound coming from the engine, which disappeared as the revs increased. As the hill levelled out I tried to go into third and it just did not want to know so I dropped into second until we were almost on the level. This is definitely not right.

On the 7th, with fourteen passengers on board, I was on another of our optional excursions and on a hill of about one in six. As this was a single track road I had to stop on the upward slope. When I tried to pull away in first gear the entire vehicle juddered violently with a lot of engine noise, the engine light came on, the revs dropped to 2,000 and I had no choice but to stop.

I allowed the engine to cool for a minute or two then started it. The engine light was no longer showing. I took the revs up far higher than I normally would and pulled off in first. The bus juddered about four or five times and then pulled more smoothly away.

Higher up the hill where the slope eases I attempted to go into second and it would not have it and I quickly dropped back into first gear. I have always used second and even third on this part of this hill in the past so something was obviously badly wrong. There had also been a very 'hot' smell when the juddering occurred.

Can you imagine what it is like describing the history of Scotland in a highly dramatic narrative when you are worried about your eighty thousand pound bus blowing up and bankrupting you? That is not a rhetorical question ... I really want you to try to imagine what that is like.

Many times on the rest of the journey I felt minor lumpiness and that pinking or missing sound.

Thursday 8th and my guide is under strict instructions to keep rev levels high and, if necessary, drive in a lower gear than normal to keep those revs up and to not put the engine under any labour at all. She's also been told to keep away from the excursions which have the steep hills.

Toyota Technical Services To The Rescue

It was at this point that Toyota Technical Services decided to step in and solve the problems we had been experiencing by having the bus taken to Reigate and thoroughly examined. They even undertook work out of guarantee, but, sadly, had to advise me that Salvador Caetano had no desire to show any goodwill whatsoever. Their words.

It must be remembered that all of this is after Salvador Caetano had had the opportunity to resolve my issues while the bus was in Heather.

When I got the bus back from Toyota it has run more quietly, more fuel efficiently and most satisfactorily.

Desperation of a Small Operator even before realising that the problems were not yet over.

As far as I can see, from what has happened to me, having deliberately chosen a brand new vehicle to ensure reliability, no operator in the UK should ever try to operate a bus business with only a single vehicle of over 16 seats. There appears to always be a need for a second vehicle of a similar standard standing idle to step into these sorts of situations. SURELY THAT IS INTOLERABLE? I chose to buy what I took to be the finest midi coach on the market BRAND NEW so that I would not have to worry about it mechanically and I was left in a total nightmare situation. This is only my third season with this vehicle. Season one experimenting, season two growth, season three for profit ... fat chance of that!

A competitor's transport manager has already threatened me face to face with putting something up on their website about us using a rented minibus during the first problem. Is this our fault for always crowing about our quality or Toyota and Salvador Caetano's for putting us in this situation?

 CONSEQUENCES

At a time of year when business is very thin on the ground, April, I had to incur considerable financial costs with the first problem.

At the absolute peak season, August, it is vital to us to maximise our business, I am restricted for half the month to sixteen seats and having to refund and compensate my passengers.

Our Five Star tour business, previously voted the area's Best Visitor Attraction, has its reputation tarnished at the beginning of the season just after the launch of all its new season tours and again in August and September to the great amusement of our competitors.

An engine, assembled by the manufacturer had to be partially dismantled unnecessarily when the fuel pump was never the problem. That now seems to have caused knock-on problems for the engine.

I have been put through an inordinate amount of hassle and stress.

Time which should have been spent promoting our new tours and maximising profitability has been spent trying to resolve a problem which should never have occurred in the first place.

FAILINGS OF MANUFACTURERS

 There is no alarm light or audible alarm to warn of low fuel yet, as is shown in this case, it can apparently cause serious damage to the bus and the operator's business. Currently, however, the engine light problem and running low on diesel do not seem to have ever been connected.

Salvador Caetano should not have put us onto Silver Coach Lines as they had never had to deal with an Optimo V.

Salvador Caetano should have organised the pump resetting and recalibration themselves. They should not have put us onto an independent company. Our vehicle was still under guarantee and they should have told us that towing was covered by warranty.

Salvador Caetano should have arranged for the correct and relevant computer software to have been sent to our nearest Toyota dealer at the first sign of this problem.

Toyota and Salvador Caetano should not have designed the vehicle body in such a way that the pump should have to be removed from the vehicle in order to be reset and recalibrated.

Toyota and Salvador Caetano should have provided a larger and more convenient access for engineers to work on the engine.

Toyota/Salvador Caetano should have ensured that their vehicle manual stated the problem which could occur if diesel ran low.

Toyota/Salvador Caetano should have ensured that the engine light appeared in the vehicle manual - IT DOES NOT!

Salvador Caetano did not take our problem sufficiently seriously when we first reported it.

Salvador Caetano knew about this problem from a previous occurrence so why were owners of Optimo Vs not advised of this?

INTERIM CONCLUSIONS - before the final truth of the problem was discovered

With the exception of Toyota Technical Services' action after much of our costs had been incurred, our company has been very shabbily treated.

We should have been warned about this potential problem (low fuel) as it had occurred with an Optimo V previously, even though we now know it had nothing to do with our troubles.

Salvador Caetano service department should have been prepared for any future occurrences and have dealt with us more effectively.

Salvador Caetano should have been in possession of the computer program to allow any Toyota dealer to discover the fault at the first occasion.

Salvador Caetano should have ensured the warning lights in the manual were the same as those in the vehicle.

If running low on diesel was likely to cause serious damage there should have been a warning stating that in the manual.

The lack of a warning buzzer or, at the very least, a warning light for low fuel is completely unacceptable.

Toyota should have designed the resetting and recalibrating system to be carried out without removing the pump.

Salvador Caetano should have ensured that the pump could be removed without having to dismantle so much of the equipment under the engine cover.

D&E Coaches were suspicious, as was I, that the pump did not have the serious damage claimed by Midland Battery Specialists as the vehicle ran perfectly when the engine light was not displayed. The pump is now in the possession of Toyota Technical Services and we have been advised by Rob Keith of Toyota Technical Services that there was nothing wrong with it other than that Midland Battery Specialists reassembled it incorrectly! All at huge cost to us. Anyway, the engine light fault seems to have been nothing to do with the pump so how could it have been so seriously damaged? I am waiting for Toyota Technical Services official report that the pump was not at fault. I should be told officially if Midland Battery Specialists had really ripped me off! I hesitate to put a single word to what this all smacks of! ########! Salvador Caetano recommended this company to my great cost. I have never received any of the promised reports on this!

Why do no garages have spare capacity to deal with such problems? Is Salvador Caetano selling to operators only on the condition that they have their own workshops and spare vehicles for emergency? If so, where is the warning of this in the sales literature for this vehicle? I expected this vehicle to be serviced in a Highland city yet it took us three years to discover somewhere that appears to be both reliable and who will take the importance of continual operation of a single vehicle operator into account. That company is Volvo Truck and Bus with service personnel and facilities on hand 7am to 10pm five days plus Saturday mornings. They, however, do not have the Toyota diagnosis computer so cannot deal with all of our problems. The garage that does only opens 8.30am to 5.30pm meaning that we have to cancel business.

All of this has caused us to suffer loss of business and incur considerable expense and loss of reputation.

This problem has caused so much damage to my business that I had real trouble surviving the winter yet I have done nothing to cause any of this. Post Script: October 2006 - I was forced to sell the bus and business and retrench to a seven-seater.

It is quite reasonable to expect a brand new vehicle to operate properly for many years and it should not be necessary for me as an operator to have my own workshops in order to operate. I am a businessman skilled in presentation, marketing, guiding and promotion. I do not have an engineering background and neither should that be necessary in order to successfully run a tour business. I have, quite reasonably, expected the skilled mechanics and service companies to advise me if there are problems and to correct them as necessary.

I should add that the absolute helpfulness of Toyota Technical Services from first contact of the original problem was superb. Salvador Caetano, however, has given incorrect advice including distance diagnosis which has caused real and unnecessary loss to my business. There appears to be a need for better communication between the two organisations.

As I have done everything expected of me as an owner/operator I should not have been caused losses and damage to my vehicle and my business. Someone/something must be to blame for this. Is it the vehicle, the advice, the lack of advice, lack of servicing infrastructure or what?

Throughout this problem I have kept a cool and responsible attitude to all the people involved despite the stress and anxiety I have been under and everyone who has had contact with me will confirm that I have not over-reacted or been unreasonable at any time.

I am, after all, trying to run a five star, award winning operation and I do not think it is unreasonable to expect five star reliability from my vehicle, and five star support and advice from Toyota. So far Salvador Caetano's help, advice and public relations warrant no better than a back-street garage and they have the opportunity to redeem themselves.

I had hoped that Salvador Caetano would do the honourable thing and resolve this sensibly and fairly to my satisfaction. Their decision was NO COMPENSATION WHATSOEVER and a failed legal attempt from Portugal to have this website shut down.

I should also add that I have allowed Toyota Customer Relations to see a draft of this site before publishing it and they have not made any comment at all.

I would dearly love to report back here that all of this has been resolved.

FINALLY WE DISCOVER THE TRUTH

Although the problem had been thought to have been resolved there was yet another twist in the tail of this story.

In the beginning of 2006 the engine light problem arose again and Toyota were most unhelpful forcing me to deal with their new dealer in the Highlands, who only work between 8.30am and 5.30pm meaning that every inspection cost me yet another day's business.

Eventually, however, the young son of the owner of this garage discovered a discrepancy between the amount of voltage a switch should have been returning to the CPU and the actual amount. The switch was under the accelerator pedal.

The purpose of the switch was to tell the CPU when there was no pressure on the accelerator pedal so that it would allow the exhaust brake to operate if required.

What this young engineer discovered was that when there was no pressure on the switch, it sent the signal to the CPU, but because the voltage was incorrect it caused the CPU to drop into "safe" mode and the engine light came on.

ALL OF MY PROBLEMS - ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IN THE HORROR STORY ABOVE - HAD BEEN CAUSED BY A SWITCH VALUED AT ABOUT 20.

Toyota replaced the switch and gave me a refund of 200 I had paid towards the investigation of the problem. That 200 is the ONLY monetary compensation I have had, and that was for a third party bill.

All in all this problem left me out of pocket to the tune of more than 10,000 and forced us to take the decision to close down our fabulous and well loved tour bus business and retrench.

We believe that Toyota and Salvador Caetano should, between them, compensate us for this disastrous problem caused by their inability to diagnose a fault in a 20 switch.

We are not looking for 10,000, but do believe a fair offer should be made. If you agree with us please write to Steve Prime and Toyota Customer Relations and tell them what they should be doing about this. The second address is Toyota's public relations address.

As of May 2010, nothing has ever been offered by Toyota who consider the 200 service refund they gave me was sufficient. Midland Battery Specialists ripped me off and Salvador Caetano were incompetent. I am seriously out of pocket and this website will NEVER be taken down unless I am compensated.

steve.prime@tgb.toyota.co.uk

customer.relations@tgb.toyota.co.uk

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