If you walk into a Toyota dealership today, you may be lucky enough to find a GR86 in the showroom. If you purchase the lightweight, rear-drive, affordable sports car, you’ll get a one-year NASA membership and complimentary track day. You’ll even get a discount on a helmet. But judging by one GT86 owner’s experience, if your engine fails — even if that failure is likely due to assembly errors at the factory — Toyota might comb your social media for evidence that you drove your sports car at track-day events and refuse to cover a new engine under warranty, leaving you with a five-figure repair bill.
Update, Aug. 5: After this article was published, Toyota replied to Jalopnik’s questions about warranty coverage. We’ve added the company’s response at the end of this article.
Just ask Blake Alvarado, whose 14,000-mile 2022 GR86 recently suffered a complete engine failure. A teardown at Alvarado’s local Toyota dealer showed oil starvation was to blame, but the service department paperwork said the bearing failure was “deemed by Toyota not a warrantable issue.” Today, Jalopnik learned that Toyota has changed course. Alvarado tells us the automaker contacted him offering to have his engine rebuilt “by the most qualified tech available and as by-the-book as possible.”
But the question remains: Will Toyota continue to deny warranty coverage when sports car owners use their vehicles in a way Toyota expressly encourages? And what happens when the next GR86 owner blows an engine, but doesn’t get their warranty woes written up by Jalopnik, Road & Track and The Drive?
Alvarado’s claim was initially denied thanks to a Toyota field technician’s social media digging. The photo you see at the top of this article, showing Alvarado’s black GR86 kicking its tail out at a high-performance driving event, was all it took for Toyota to initially deny his warranty claim — without that field technician ever examining the car firsthand. (The field technician also cited a video on YouTube, with in-car footage of Blake running an autocross course, as evidence that the car was abused beyond the terms of warranty coverage, but as you’ll see below, the video doesn’t show Blake’s car at all — the car in the video is painted white.)
This type of engine failure is sadly not unfamiliar to fans of the Toyobaru coupe. First-generation Toyota 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZs were known for oil starvation issues at high RPMs, leading many owners to install oil coolers and experiment with various oil weights to try and keep their engines properly lubricated. But that problem only showed up at sustained high revs, meaning any vehicle that suffered this type of engine failure was likely driven hard.
Alvarado’s issue was different — and could’ve happened at any engine load, any RPM, any time.
“There was grey sealant in the oil pickup,” Alvarado explained in a Facebook post detailing his ordeal with the car. “I inspected the motor and took photos of the oil pickup and the excess sealant which I showed to the Service Manager and Toyota Corporate. I explained to Toyota Corporate that according to the Service Manager, the [field technician] had still not been to the dealership to physically inspect the motor even after the sealant issue was raised.”
Alvarado stood alongside the dealership technician who wrote up the initial teardown report, and could clearly see a buildup of RTV sealant in and around the oil pickup.
Excess RTV sealant clogging oil passages isn’t anything new in the 86 world. In fact, the issue dates back to the earliest days of the FR-S, when Toyota dealers applied too much of the sticky gunk while performing valve spring recalls. New cars, however, seem to exhibit this problem straight from the factory — excess sealant applied during engine assembly can break off with use, collecting in the oil pump and impeding the flow of oil to the engine. If the forums are anything to go by, Alvarado’s is far from the only car lost to RTV-induced oil starvation.
When a factory assembly issue causes repeated engines failures, automakers will usually issue a recall to remedy the situation. In Alvarado’s case, however, Toyota and the dealer appeared to initially take a different approach, leaving Alvarado on the hook to spend as much as $11,000 for the dealer to install a brand-new engine.
“I spoke with the Service Manager at the Dealer and requested further escalation or consideration for a goodwill claim,” Alvarado’s Facebook post explains. “He did not entertain this nor any other compromise on the repair (50/50, parts only, labor only, etc.) and stated that he valued the dealership’s reputation with Toyota and did not want to compromise that by approving something the [field technician] and Toyota Corporate had already determined was not warrantable.”
Alvarado ordered a used engine from a wrecked 86, and had the car towed to a Subaru dealer to install it. Luckily, Toyota stepped in and offered to cover the full cost of an engine rebuild before the Subaru dealer began teardown on Alvarado’s car.
“They are rebuilding the existing [engine], replacing all rotating assemblies and reassembling using sealant to factory spec,” Alvarado told Jalopnik via Facebook. “They reassured me it will be handled by the most qualified tech available and as by-the-book as possible.” It seems the media attention convinced Toyota to change course and take care of Alvarado. Still, he’s concerned about what his experience means for future GR86 owners who decide to visit the track.
“The thing I’m pushing for is Toyota to acknowledge they already have a solution in Europe: The GR Yaris track warranty,” Alvarado told me. “Just bring that over to the States and give it to all GR vehicles that have free track days offered.... Problem solved.”
He has a point. The GR Yaris is expressly portrayed as a track-ready machine. In the UK, Toyota clearly states that “the use of the vehicle for track days or similar events does not invalidate the vehicle’s warranty.” The automaker even specifies that the coverage includes failures that directly arise from track events, particularly if they arise from manufacturing defects.
Alvarado’s GR86 will be back up and running soon enough, with an engine freshly rebuilt by trained Toyota technicians on the company dime. But his ordeal has shaken the GR86 fanbase, and Toyota’s initial response left a sour taste in many enthusiasts’ mouths. The comments on Alvarado’s Facebook post show many people swearing off the brand as a result of this debacle.
The Toyobaru twins are meant to foster enthusiasm in young car buyers, and serve as an affordable entry point into the two brands. After Alvarado’s story, however, they may be doing just the opposite.
Update: A Toyota representative responded to Jalopnik and stated that Toyota-provided NASA driving events would not void a vehicle’s warranty, barring damage that occurred specifically due to track use:
Regarding the 2022 GR86 issue in question, the Toyota Gazoo Racing brand is driven by enthusiasts and focused on delivering incredible experiences wherever the driver may take their vehicles, including the closed-course settings for which their vehicles are designed, so long as they are driven in a manner that falls within the terms of the warranty.
While the vehicle’s warranty excludes damage that results from activities such as misuse and racing, simply participating in National Auto Sport Association (NASA) High Performance Driving Events (HPDE) or similar NASA instructional events provided complimentary to GR owners would not, in and of itself, void the warranty. Warranty claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Based on further review, we’ve determined the repair of Mr. Alvarado’s vehicle in this case is covered under warranty.
As always, we encourage customers who experience any issues with their vehicle to contact their authorized Toyota dealer or call the Toyota Brand Engagement Center (1-800-331-4331) when a dealer is not able to resolve a matter.
When asked about non-NASA events, or those not provided complimentary with the vehicle’s purchase, the representative only reiterated that “warranty claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”