A proposed class action lawsuit claims the 14.5-gallon gas tank found in 2019 and 2020 model year Toyota RAV4 hybrid vehicles is stricken by a defect that prevents the tank from being filled to capacity. The 34-page complaint claims that even when a vehicle’s low fuel light is on, a fuel system flaw prevents Toyota RAV4 hybrids from accepting more than 10 gallons of gas, and often “far less,” before the fuel pump is triggered to shut off.
Toyota’s RAV4 hybrid SUVs utilize a combination of a gasoline engine and electric motor, the case explains. A feature with the vehicles, the suit says, is that the cars’ gas engine and regenerative brakes charge the hybrid battery, eliminating the need for an outside charging source. Though Toyota emphatically advertises that its 2019 and 2020 RAV4 hybrids come equipped with a 14.5-gallon gas tank that can hit a 580-mile driving range, the automaker, the lawsuit alleges, offers no warning to buyers and lessees that the cars suffer from the apparent fuel tank issue that harms both the environment and the benefit of the cars’ electric power.
The complaint says that as a result of the apparent fuel tank defect, affected RAV4 hybrids not only fail to comply with federal and state gas tank regulations, which prohibit the sale of vehicles that cannot fill 90 percent or within two gallons of their nominal gas tank capacity, but suffer from substantially reduced driving range. The case charges that the fuel tank defect prevents drivers from “getting anywhere near” the vehicles’ advertised 550-plus-mile range, which the suit describes as “a major selling point and for which customers pay a premium.” In fact, the lawsuit claims, given the average range of a gas-only RAV4 is 435 miles as represented by Toyota, the alleged fuel tank defect with the hybrid version of the vehicle leaves the car with even less driving range than its cheaper gas-only counterpart.
Further still, the plaintiff claims the apparent fuel tank defect is not an intermittent problem, but happens “at virtually every fueling.” More broadly, the fuel tank defect poses an environmental and safety hazard in that drivers are left to guess how much gas they have left and effectively encouraged to top off their fuel tanks in order to fill up as much as possible, the case says. At the end of the day, according to the complaint, the alleged fuel tank defect does little to reduce a driver’s environmental footprint. From the suit:
“Running out of fuel may result in an accident or leave drivers stranded on the side of a busy or deserted road creating a safety hazard.
Running out of fuel may also damage the Vehicles, including their fuel system components. The Owner’s Manual warns that if the Subject Vehicles run out of fuel or the fuel is too low, the hybrid system may not be able to start.
The Fuel Tank Defect creates environmental and safety hazards by causing drivers to ‘top off’ (restart a fuel pump after it has automatically shut off) the fuel tank to try and achieve a complete fill-up. Topping off causes hazardous gas spills creating a danger to the driver, the environment and the vehicle. As a result, the Fuel Tank Defect increases the environmental impact of these hybrid vehicles by increasing the number of trips consumers must make to refuel and causing environmental harm related to fuel evaporation and spillage (causing both groundwater contamination and emission of gasoline vapor).”
Toyota customers reasonably expected their vehicles to perform as advertised by the company, the suit argues, and the apparent fuel tank defect has caused owners and lessees to spend more out-of-pocket on gas. To date, the lawsuit says, more than 100 complaints have been filed by RAV4 hybrid drivers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Toyota, according to the suit, knew of the fuel tank defect as early as Spring 2019 and even issued in November a “Tech Tip” to address what it called a “fuel gauge concern” with 2019 RAV4 hybrids. To date, Toyota has “refused” to take any action to correct the “concealed” defect, much less reimburse RAV4 hybrid owners and lessees, the lawsuit alleges.
“Instead, Defendants continue to expressly and impliedly represent that the Subject Vehicles are well-designed, properly manufactured, are safe for their intended use, and comply with federal and state emission regulations,” the case reads, adding that at present, affected vehicles cannot be repaired because “Toyota has not issued a fix.”
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