Should Toyotas be in drive or park?

LaHood's reversal confuses owners

Staff WriterFebruary 4, 2010 

  • Toyota has issued two recalls involving separate problems with gas pedals.

    In October, the owners of several models were advised to remove floor mats that could trap gas pedals, sticking them in the wide-open position. Toyota said it will offer redesigned pedals and mats to owners of 4.8 million vehicles.

    In January, Toyota stopped production and sale of eight models because of a mechanical problem that could cause the accelerator to get stuck, preventing the car from slowing when the driver's foot is removed from the pedal.

    Toyota said it is sending repair kits to dealers, where the owners of 2.3 million recalled vehicles will be asked to have their gas pedals fixed.

    The January recall covers all or some of these models, including a Pontiac that uses the same part:

    2007-2008 Tundra

    2008-2010 Sequoia

    2005-2010 Avalon

    2007-2010 Camry

    2009-2010 Corolla

    2009-2010 Matrix

    2009-2010 RAV4

    2010 Highlander

    2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers this advice for drivers who experience unintended acceleration in any vehicle, from any cause:

    Apply the brakes firmly and steadily. Do not pump the pedal.

    Shift the transmission into neutral.

    Steer the car to a safe place and shut off the engine.

    Have the car removed, and do not drive it until it is repaired.

Many Toyota drivers in North Carolina scoffed Wednesday when the U.S. transportation secretary warned Americans to stop driving 2.3 million cars that have been recalled for sticky gas pedals.

Drivers said they were already confused about the recent Toyota warnings, in which the gas pedals are blamed for sudden acceleration. Wednesday's events only muddled things more.

First, Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, issued his admonition to Toyota drivers during a House committee meeting in Washington.

"Stop driving it," LaHood said. "Take it to the Toyota dealer, because they believe they have the fix for it."

Just a few hours later, LaHood backtracked.

"What I meant to say, or what I thought I said, was, if you own one of these cars or if you're in doubt, take it to the dealer and they're going to fix it," he said.

Phyllis B. Gurley, 76, of Goldsboro, said she mistrusted LaHood's motives.

"I think it's a conspiracy to run Toyota out of business and to put Ford in number one," said Gurley, whose family has three Toyotas. "I have more confidence in the Toyota company than I do in the dang government."

Toyota Motor Corp. sought to reassure drivers that the gas pedal problems are rare. Sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles has been linked to 19 deaths in the past decade.

"Our message to Toyota owners is this: If you experience any issues with your accelerator pedal, please contact your dealer without delay," the company said. "If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive."

The back-and-forth played out as word surfaced that Toyota also has been the subject of more than 100 complaints in the United States and Japan about brake problems with the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid, which is not part of the gas pedal recall.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received about 100 Prius complaints, two of them involving crashes that resulted in injuries. In addition, Japan's transport ministry said it had received 14 complaints.

Extra hours for repairs

Fred Anderson of Raleigh, who owns a half dozen dealerships including Fred Anderson Toyota, said he is telling customers he will schedule the gas pedal repairs probably starting next week, after he has received all the new parts. He said his crews will work extra shifts and extended hours once they start making repairs.

"We are trying to set up the most efficient process we can while ensuring quality," Anderson said. "I think we'll be able to handle those customers and do a great job."

A few North Carolina drivers said they don't feel safe using their Toyotas.

"I don't believe Toyota for one minute that some small piece of metal is going to solve this problem," said Peter Bojorquez of Fayetteville, who has a 2007 Tundra.

Cynthia Burney of Durham, a Toyota driver for 17 years, said she isn't sure she will keep her 2010 Camry much longer.

"At this point I am driving it because it's my only source of transportation," Burney said. "But I am limiting my driving."

Other area Toyota drivers said they weren't worried.

"It doesn't bother me one bit to drive it," said William J. Peterson, 55, of Durham, whose red 2008 Tundra is on the recall list. "I feel safe. I've never had even a hint of a problem with it. It makes absolute sense that if your accelerator sticks, you just shift it into neutral."

George Field of Sanford said he'll be careful until he can take his 2008 Avalon in for a gas pedal fix. But if his accelerator gets stuck, he knows what to do.

"Putting the car in neutral is not rocket science," said Field, 65. "I will probably be driving with one hand on the gear shift, and will head for a dealer if we have problems on the road."

Charles George of Raleigh said he'll drive his 2007 Camry without worry until he can get the gas pedal repaired.

Meanwhile, said George, 80: "Fire LaHood for his untimely, hysterical and uncalled-for remarks."

Staff writer Sue Stock and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

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