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Thanks to Ben777 for submitting this tutorial.

Disclaimer: This procedure is what I used to fix my own car. It may not be applicable to other cars. I bear no responsibility for the accuracy of this writeup, nor do I bear any responsibility if you damage your car, or are injured in any way. This writeup is provided for entertainment purposes only, and should not be attempted by anyone except trained automotive technicians. Don't try this yourself at home!      


So after doing numerous searches, it seems like no one has ever solved definitively the problem of the rear hatch release not releasing all the way on the 1998 cars.

So, got in there last night to diagnose and fix the problem. So far, seems to be working.

It has nothing to do with cable tension, or latch/striker alignment (assuming that it's never been removed or adjusted after leaving the factory).

The way it works is that both the interior pull and the key are tied by cables to a release latch which releases the hatch. Once the hatch is released, a spring pulls on another lever which performs the dual action of pushing the hatch upward and releasing the hook on the hatch. The problem was that this spring wasn't providing enough tension to move this lever, and the hatch then gets stuck. When you turn and hold the key or hold the hatch release, the lever is free-floating, allowing the spring to pull it. If the spring fails to move it, when you release the key or hatch release, the lever is no longer free floating, and locked back in the closed position.

It's much easier to understand if you see it, rather than reading about it. To see it, what I did was after removing the rear trunk panel, I shined a light directly towards the hatch release mechanism, then pulled the trunk release with my other hand. You can see the whole thing in action.

So, what I did was cut about 7-8 coils out of the spring to give it more tension, then for good measure, I put new grease on both the latch on the hatch, and the hook on the latching mechanism to make things work more smoothly. Without the grease I am sure it would work also, but you might have to remove more coils from the spring. I did this by trial and error, removing one coil at a time until the spring had enough tension to pull the lever. Depending on the age and condition of your spring, you may not have to remove as many coils. I would start by removing 2 or 3 coils, then removing more as needed.

The spring itself is connected to the bracket of the latching mechanism, and to the lever. It can be removed pretty easily. It's a yellow/gold color, and has a white plastic sleeve around it.

Be careful when cutting and bending the spring, as it's high tension, and things go flying if you aren't careful.

Wear eye protection!

I also tried to see if a new spring could be ordered from Toyota, but unfortunately, it's only available as part of the entire mechanism. A new spring should work also, as it should have more tension than a 12 year old one, but the modification works fine if you don't want to buy a whole new mechanism.

Hope this helps!

Here are a few pics.

Tools needed:
- Eye Protection
- Jeweler's Screwdriver (to remove screw covers on rear trunk panel)
- #2 Phillips Screwdriver (to remove rear trunk panel screws and targa top holders)
- Large Needle Nose Pliers (bend spring)
- Large Wire Cutters (cut spring, help bend spring)

Remove the 4 plugs, and 4 screws for the rear trunk panel, remove the targa top holders (1 plastic cover and 2 screws on each side), then push the panel back. You don't need to remove the 2 plugs in the bottom to remove the panel completely, as pushing it back will give you enough room to work.

Here are the spring and lever in closed position. The 2 cables you see at the bottom are the releases, one for the key, and one for the hatch release by the driver's seat. The lever the cables are connected to is the main release lever. As you can see, the spring pulls the lever to push the hatch up and release the latch. This spring is with 8 coils already removed.

Here are the spring and lever in open position. The cause of the problem is that the spring doesn't have enough tension to pull the lever into fully open position. 

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