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GR Corolla: Toyota Dispatches a Fixer

Mar 15, 2024

When I arrived at Toyota-Volvo of Keene, New Hampshire, there was already a palpable buzz amongst the service staff about the man I have been scheduled to meet there. The wheels of warranty-repair justice turn slowly, but the tech that Toyota have dispatched for me is the man they call when no one knows what to do, he is a fixer, he is the Wolf; I am half expecting Harvey Keitel to walk in the door.

Are they sending the Wolf?

When I arrived at Toyota-Volvo of Keene[1], New Hampshire, this morning, there was already a palpable buzz amongst the service staff about the man I have been scheduled to meet there. The wheels of warranty-repair justice turn slowly, but the tech that Toyota have[2] dispatched for me is the man they call when no one knows what to do, he is a fixer, he is the Wolf; I am half expecting Harvey Keitel to walk in the door.

I don’t know how you spent your teenage years, but mine involved lining car door panels with Dynamat to muffle the resonance of too much subwoofer. I never exactly grew out of that phase. When I drive near you, you’re probably going to hear it.

So when I found out last summer that my GR Corolla would have what Toyota optimistically terms the premium audio package[3], I was pleased, because at the very least that would give me six speaker mounts in front. And, when I got laid off two weeks after I paid cash for the speedy little bastard, I figured the sound quality was competent, if not inspired — enough to carry me until I found suitable employ to justify building it out.

When the tech arrives, he’s not Harvey Keitel, but he is full-on Bah-ston; he has run up from Worcester, Mass., in the rain. I shake hands, and then ask: “Did you bring one?” and on his nod run out the door without further social grace because this is my first chance to see another GR Corolla. And there it is, a few spaces down, from mine.

Not-Keitel’s GR Corolla is black. Somehow it looks forlorn. I feel unmoved. Then I feel sad.

“I think it looks better in white,” he says, catching up with me, and I, long-time hater of white cars, realize that I agree. The styling beef that Toyota has glommed onto the GR to differentiate it from, well, the Corolla that it actually is, seems to disappear into the black. There is a crack in the windshield longer than my arm, two of the four wheels are missing valve-stem caps, and it’s raining.

The only other GR I have ever seen

The only other GR Corolla I have ever seen.

Why we are here

One day last November or so I went to drive my car and everything sounded terrible. I re-downloaded all my music in highest quality, munged settings, tried different inputs, all the boring crap you do when you’re trying to be scientific about something, hell I’m bored just writing this sentence. Nothing alleviated the portable-tape-deck sound that I was suffering out of the rear speakers.

I took it to the dealer in January. Several techs rotated into and out of my car, listening, shaking their heads, exchanging yeah, this is messed up looks. No one can put their finger on what exactly is wrong with my sound system but everyone who listens to it emerges feeling depressed. It is generally agreed that it is broken.

After this it takes months to arrange today’s rendezvous.

This is exactly how it is supposed to be

I have this recurring stress dream in which I am unable to figure out how to use my phone. It is an emergency, someone insistently needs medical attention, but I can’t find the app to make a phone call, I can’t seem to align my fat fingers to dial 9-1-1. This anxiety now plays out in real life in Keene, New Hampshire.

We need to reproduce my problem in a car that is not my own, ergo the tech bringing his own GR. I am unwilling to pair my phone to the not-my-GR because it took me hours of menu-diving, app downloads, network switching and restarts to get paired to my own. The tech’s phone doesn’t have signal, so he can’t stream the song I played in my own car moments before (the only music he has locally is Pearl Jam. I’m not going to touch that). We find that it may be literally impossible to tune the radio manually to get a local station — I found a buried sub-menu, but you have to maybe type in the frequency? Only the digits 3, 4 and 0 are available, the others are greyed out. This is really happening. Is this real life? — and we consider connecting my phone using a cable, but his phone is lightning and mine is USB-C, so we can’t. Easily twenty minutes go by in this fever nightmare. Finally we realize that the car has Sirius XM service and I dial in an appropriately stupid electronic-dancey station, sufficiently thumpy.

We start fading the sound to the back…and…

it sounds exactly like my car did.

The tech and do a long, slow burning stare at each other, his mouth open and eyes droopy at the bottom, a little like Huckleberry Hound. We don’t say anything for several seconds and I can hear the just-barely sounds of the rain over the near-nothing that is happening from the rear speakers. “Wow,” he says eventually, almost reverentially. “That sounds really terrible.”

Software is terrible.

“Maybe they’ll send you a stick you can just plug in and everything will be better,” offers the deep-voiced, white-mustached, appropriately begrimed man who seems to be in charge of the service bay; the distant look in his eyes suggest that has seen things. He’s come in to shoot the shit with the tech because, like I said, the guy carries a lot of weight and everyone seems happy to see him. St. Patrick’s Day plans are discussed.

We’d been standing there, the three of us, in the service department, for several minutes, and the general consensus is software. Has Toyota pushed an update that neutered their own sound system? Did it somehow always sound this bad and I didn’t notice for months? Theres’s a gloominess, maybe it’s the weather. I have no reason to still be there but can’t seem to leave.

“Well,” offers the tech, “at least Toyota doesn’t hijack your speakers. I had a guy with a loaded Tundra last week who was pissed off at how bad his JBL system sounded. It was because his music was being drowned out by piped-through synthetic V-8 engine noises.”

Eventually I drove home because what else is there to do, never once touching the speed limit, behind dump truck, garbage truck, garbage truck, tractor trailer, erratic but ponderous Sentra, garbage truck again. Road mist and rain, the sky looks filthy, everything seems very glued to the ground and a little dream-like.

At least my engine noise is real.

  1. Correct. Toyota-Volvo. I didn’t even know that combination was possible; it’s like pickles and milk. ↩︎

  2. I’m leaving this subject-verb agreement as it lies, with the risk of sounding affected. I spend a lot of time around British people. ↩︎

  3. I had no sway in the build-out configuration or color (white) of my car. I am lucky to have it at all. ↩︎