What Are the Common Problems With A Toyota Sienna?

If you’re considering buying a Toyota Sienna, you might be wondering what kind of problems it might have.  Although it is generally considered to be a reliable vehicle, every car model has its own problems, so before buying one, it’s best to know what kind of issues you may be looking at.  Learning about the most common problems that occur in the Toyota Sienna will help you to make an informed decision as to whether you should buy one.

Quick Answer:

There are a handful of issues commonly reported with the Toyota Sienna.

  • Sliding door mechanism: The most commonly reported problem is sliding door mechanism breaking. Usually the door has to be opened manually following this; in some cases it will not open at all.
  • Dashboard cracks: The next most common problem is large cracks appearing in the dashboard. These cracks are very large, obvious, and unsightly.
  • Oxygen sensors: Another very common issue is that the oxygen sensors may fail, which will prompt the “check engine” light to turn on.
  • Oil leaks: Older Siennas commonly suffer from burst oil lines, resulting in huge oil leaks. This is a serious issue that must be fixed immediately.

This is not an exhaustive list.  Any time you’re thinking of buying a vehicle, consider all possible issues.  Learn more about them to decide what risks you feel comfortable taking.

Common Problems With the Toyota Sienna

Although the Toyota Sienna is usually seen as a reliable family car, there are a number of common issues to consider before buying one.

Sliding Door Mechanism

By far the most commonly reported issue with the Toyota Sienna is the sliding door mechanism breaking.  The Sienna has a sliding door which can be opened electronically, using a motor.  This very frequently stops working.

Typically, the sliding door stops working because the cable in the door becomes frayed.  The frayed cable then damages the electric motor.  The cable can also break completely.  Occasionally, the motor itself simply gets worn out.

Usually after it breaks, the door has to be opened manually.  However, the door will sometimes not be able to open at all.  The cost to repair this issue is often $1500, but can exceed $2000 at some locations.

Dashboard Cracks

The second most commonly reported issue with the Toyota Sienna is that large cracks will appear all across the dashboard.  It usually starts in one location and then spreads somewhat rapidly.  The cracks are frequently compared to slashes from blades.

The cracks are sometimes attributed to sun damage, but people frequently argue that this is not the case.  Cracks appear even in when the vehicle is kept out of the sun and a sun shade is used.

The only solution currently available for this problem is to have the dashboard completely replaced, which can cost upwards of $2000.  Some people will claim that this issue is purely cosmetic, but it has been reported to interfere with airbags.

Oxygen Sensors

People commonly report a failure in the Sienna’s oxygen sensors, which prompts the “Check Engine” light to turn on.  This usually happens after driving the car over 60,000 miles.

Although drivers may not notice any issues in functionality, a failed oxygen sensor could lead to inefficient gas use.  The oxygen sensor measures the amount of oxygen present in the exhaust and makes changes accordingly to maximize efficiency.

Fortunately, the cost to repair the oxygen sensor problem is not as much as some of these other problems.  The part tends to cost just over $200, plus the cost of labor, which will depend on how much your mechanic charges.

Oil Leaks

One of the most serious issues  to occur within the Toyota Sienna is when the VVT-i oil line bursts.  This causes a massive oil leak, and usually happens in older models.

Drivers often report this happening with no prior warning from warning lights.  Once the oil leak starts, the vehicle may lose all its oil, leading to engine failure if the car is used anyway.

This is an issue that must be addressed immediately.  The line will have to be replaced, and the oil will have to be thoroughly cleaned from the car’s undercarriage and engine bay.  Some have reported this to cost around $500.

Airbag Issues

Toyota vehicles manufactured between 2002 and 2017 may be subject to a safety recall due to the dangerous Takata airbags present in some vehicles, as part of the largest recall in automotive history.

Takata airbags have chemicals that are meant to inflate the airbags in the case of an accident which may deteriorate over time, causing an explosion which may kill drivers and passengers with the force they use, and by hurling shrapnel into them.

The good news is that Toyota has made it easy to have your car fixed.  If you visit https://www.toyota.com/recall/takata, you can enter your VIN number to see if your car is subject to recall.  If so, you can have it fixed for free.

Failed Charcoal Canister

Another issue that may prompt your “Check Engine” light is a failed charcoal canister.  The charcoal canister is part of your EVAP (evaporation emission control) system, and captures vapors before they can leave your fuel tank.

The charcoal canister helps you improve your gas mileage.  While you should be able to drive with a charcoal canister issue, you will likely experience lower fuel efficiency, and may have trouble pumping gas, so you will want to get it fixed as soon as possible.

The cost to replace a charcoal canister is typically around $300-$400 for parts and labor.  However, some drivers have reported being charged over $1000 for the procedure.

Loose or Worn Gas Cap

One of the lowest-stake problems to come up in a Toyota Sienna is the gas cap.  It’s not uncommon for a Sienna’s gas cap to become loose or worn, meaning it will not shut correctly.

Generally, it’s not a good idea to drive without a gas cap that will not close right.  You may experience decreased fuel efficiency or engine contamination.  It’s also possible your car’s “limp home mode” will be triggered, which will only allow you to drive at low gears in slow speeds.

The good news here is that this is a very easy problem to fix.  You can buy a new gas cap for under $20.  No need to go to the mechanic; you can replace this yourself.

Low Engine RPM/Stalling on Cold Start

In older models, you may find that your Sienna will stall when you try to start it, or it may start and run at a low engine RPM.  This happens when the engine is cold.

The problem here is the idle air control valve.  If it fails or just becomes too dirty, your engine will not get the proper airflow, which will result in these issues.

Some drivers have reported being charged upwards of $350, sometimes around $600 to have this fixed.  Alternatively, some drivers have had luck cleaning it themselves using materials which cost less than $10, so that’s an option for those who feel comfortable doing so.

Mass Air Flow Sensors

For high mileage Siennas, the mass air flow sensors may begin to cause problems if they are not cleaned regularly.  Your “Check Engine” light may be triggered, your acceleration speed may be slow, and your fuel mileage may suffer.

The mass air flow sensors monitor the amount of air entering your engine and helps ensure that your car is using an efficient amount of fuel.  If the MAF sensors are not working correctly, you may notice a decline in performance.

Replacement costs can be around $200-$300 for MAF sensors.  You can avoid this cost by cleaning them regularly.  Most people should be able them by themselves with no problems, as long as you do some research first about how to do so.

Any model of car is going to have some issues with it.  It’s up to you, the buyer, to decide what issues you’re willing to risk before you decide to buy a car.

Top Alternatives to a Toyota Sienna

If you’re feeling uncertain about getting a Sienna, you might be wondering what other options you have.  Here are some minivans that can be compared to a Toyota Sienna.

Honda Odyssey:  The number one vehicle to compete with the Sienna is the Odyssey.  The two vehicles are neck and neck in most measures, but the Odyssey has more cargo space and better mileage.  The Sienna does have AWD, unlike the Odyssey, but the Odyssey has an advantage in most other categories.

Chrysler Pacifica:  The Pacifica is another top competitor against the Sienna.  The Pacifica gets significantly better mileage, it receives better safety ratings, and is known to handle better than the Sienna.  The Sienna has a more powerful engine, however, and is a bit more affordable.

Dodge Caravan:  The Caravan is worth noting here because it is often compared to the Sienna.  That being said, the Caravan doesn’t have much going for it, especially in comparison to the Sienna.  It’s much bigger and a bit cheaper, which might appeal to some people, but it has low safety ratings, and loses to the Sienna in most other categories as well.

Kia Sedona:  The Sedona can be a strong competitor for those who are concerned about the price.  The Sedona is generally more affordable than the Sienna, and has more leg room for its passengers.  The two cars are neck-and-neck in most categories, though the Sienna tends to score just slightly better, the Sedona is much more budget-friendly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Toyota Sienna Problems

You might still be weighing your options, trying to decide if the Sienna is worth the potential trouble.  Here are the answers to some questions you may still have.

How Reliable is the Toyota Sienna?  The Toyota Sienna is considered to be possibly the most reliable minivan available.  J. D. Power gave the 2020 Sienna a rating of 4/5, which means “better than most”.  That being said, Repair Pal gave it just 3.5/5 and ranked it 6th out of 8 for minivans, explaining that while the average repair cost is low and the frequency of repairs is average, issues are more likely to be severe than other models.

How Does Toyota Handle Recalls?  If Toyota launches a Safety Recall Campaign, that means that a defect was found to affect the safety of a vehicle or to violate a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.  If you have a vehicle that may be affected by the recall, you can contact Toyota by phone, or you can enter your VIN at https://www.toyota.com/recall to see your vehicle’s status in regards to the recall.  If necessary, Toyota will have your vehicle inspected and/or fixed as soon as possible.

Do I Have To Pay For The Recall Work?  No.  Toyota offers inspection and repair work for vehicles for which a Safety Recall Campaign was launched, or for vehicles that fall under a Special Service Campaign or a Limited Service Campaign.  The service campaigns are not actual recalls, but customer satisfaction initiatives to solve issues in affected vehicles.  These inspections and repair work are done at no charge, but a Limited Service Campaign has an expiration date, and the work will not be done for free after the expiration date.

How to Check For Recalls On Toyota Sienna:  If you’re not sure whether your vehicle has been affected by a recall, or whether it already had recall work done prior to you owning it, you can check by entering your VIN at https://www.toyota.com/recall.  You can also contact Toyota by phone if you have questions.  Your Toyota Sienna may be affected by the Takata airbag recall if it was manufactured between 2002 and 2017.

Does the Toyota Sienna Have More Problems Than Other Minivans?  Reports by Repair Pal indicate that Toyota Siennas require repairs an average of 0.41 times per year, which aligns with the overage 0.4 for all minivans.  They also report that the average cost for these repairs is $554, which is lower than the average $647 for minivans.  However, Siennas have a 15% probability of a repair being a major issue, which is higher than the 12% average for minivans.

What is the Average Lifespan of a Toyota Sienna?  With the proper care and maintenance, Toyota Siennas are likely to survive more than 200,000 miles.  Of course, there are no guarantees, and a major issue could make this number much lower.  Still, there is no shortage of Siennas with over 200,000 miles, and a few out there that have broken the 300,000 mile mark.

Wrap Up

It’s always best to be well-informed about the possible risks before buying a car.  Despite its problems, the Toyota Sienna is viewed as a reliable minivan, and Toyota is viewed as a reliable manufacturer.  Still, the potential issues are worth considering, so be sure you have all the facts before you commit to buying a Sienna.

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