Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Left-Handed Spanner: Whence KBZ Serves Ice Cold Revenge on a Toyota Beancounter

The Left-Handed Spanner, by Kaibeezy:  Remember the "Swagger Wagon"? Way back in 2012, Toyota dropped this slammin' vid featuring painfully hip folk swaggerin' about their wagon.

I cringed a bit more than the rest of you, as we had bought one of these Sienna SE minivans just a few months before. Now, when *I* bought it, it was mainly for the upgraded suspension and 260 hp engine shoveled into this particular model. The story as I prefer to recall it was that a Toyota exec had become irritated at Honda repeatedly winning the "best performing minivan" award, so they took an engineer off their F1 team and sent him over to paint some pinstripes on the pig. And it did, in fact, scoot and handle really nicely.

Lots of doodads too. Uh oh, you know how I feel about doodads. By the third doodad failure on this *brand new* van, revenge became certain.

Let me dispense with the anti-DT philosophical dissonance. With a new kid, we wanted a van built to fairly recent safety standards. The premium on later-model used vans is so high, the new one was only a bit more, and with factory financing, practically a wash. These economics seemed likely to still be in our favor when it came time to sell. Plus the F1 upgrade.

Now the failures. (Have I told this story before? I feel like I have.)

1) I negotiated carefully, got a deal I was OK with, and was just about to sign... "Oh, sir, you know, there's just one more thing. Wouldn't you like backup sensors?" Yep, I would, and if I paid for them up front they could offer the 0% financing and the extra cost would come out in the wash (lot of washing, eh?). "Why can't I get the 0% *without* the sensors?" "Because Toyota gives us a special deal." Basically a load of brown stuff for me and cash in the pocket of the dealer.

2) The cheapest battery they could get away with. Kept draining out when sitting listening to the radio while the baby had a nap. Cars are great for nap inducement, whereupon I could stop and read a book with quiet music on. 30 minutes was plenty to drain it. AAA man just shook his head every time.

3) The tires were done after 15,000 miles, and at an odd size, unbelievably expensive. Why? The answer I got from the gleeful tire salesman was that the sticky tires necessary for F1 handling by a minivan come in either fast-wearing and cheap or long-wearing and expensive. Guess which Toyota picked?

Now, revenge, KBZ-style. With the kiddo bigger, and now living in the country of another country, the CFO (not to be confused with CFlo or CFlo's CFO) requested a big SUV. I'm not insane (hello, Range Rover?) and figured a bit older Land Cruiser would be a sound choice. Reliable diesel engine. 2007, not new, so I wouldn't be as fussy. Her car anyway. Fine, and we'll see what cheap bits fail.

Sure enough, a couple of months in, the key fob disintegrated in my hand. Look at that stupid design, all the torque on that cheap plastic.

Oh, but it's 90 bloody quid for a new one from the dealer. 90! And that's £90, so it's really $125. Srsly, screw that. Over to eBay, find a fob shell for 4 quid, swap the guts in, get the key cut for a fiver, done. Nope, see the shoulder on that blade. Wouldn't turn. Time for tools.

Look at the sharp little handle on that file. I have delicate graphic designer and whatever-else-it-is-that-I-do-but-it-ain't-manual-labor hands. The file needs a handle, stat. The good news is, I live in whisky country and we all have scrap bits of old casks lying around.

See that dark part, that's the charcoal layer formed when they hit the bourbon or sherry barrels with a flamethrower before filling with raw whisky for the long sleep. And it's oak, so it's sturdy, except where the char and alcohol make it a little flaky (so go we all).

I picked a drill bit for a snug hole,

quickly sanded off the sharp edges and flakes (if only we could do that in real life),


and tapped (no, neither a real toolmaker tap nor a Donald Trump tapp),

and there you have about the nicest handle on a file a guy like me could want. Isn't that a beauty?

After that, it was a simple matter of filing down the shoulders

until I could plunge the blade deep into the heart of the Toyota, perchance to prick the beancounter surely lurking there.



  1. Phenomenal piece of writing KBZ. "So go we all" is an all-time line.

    1. My kind MB, I can no other answer make but thanks.

  2. Good job! You see, in my world, I'd have had to cut the wood from the barrel, and needed to find the saw, which would have been under some other project on the bench. Remembering that that project needed to be done would have led to an hour or two of further distraction where I would have been sidetracked at least a half a dozen times. It would have been a crapshoot as to whether I'd ever gotten back to fixing the file to trim the key to make it fit. So congrats for making it happen!

    1. Well, we do have another key, but that always makes me nervous.

      Now, Vauxhall, for example, which we had one of for a little while, has a proprietary cut that can *only* be done at their central shop, plus you have to bring ID and registration docs, it takes 3 weeks, and it's even more expensive than Toyota. So we limped along on one key there and it was invariably a pain in the Astra. OK, actually it was a Zafira.

  3. Nothing to say, except; Thanks, I sure enjoyed reading that!

  4. I've found that it takes a least half a day to do the things you need to do to get to the little job you originally started out to do.

    1. Right? Took me all morning just to drain that whisky barrel.

  5. Nice hack KBZ; prices of modern keys & fobs have gotten out of control. Great to learn there's a way to "DT it" back together when one fails.

    1. One of the great things about living in a tiny / remote, yet surprisingly self-sufficient country village, is that not only did my local saddler have a key cutting machine out in the shed, but she wouldn't let me pay her to cut it until after we saw if the key worked. Try that at Lowes Depot.


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