Local Toyota dealerships await accelerator fix

February 2, 2010 9:15:14 PM PST
The gas pedal fix can't come soon enough for Toyota owners and dealerships across the Bay Area. Most already have thousands of customers on wait lists, but no sign yet of those replacement parts.

Anxious customers have been dialing a special hotline at Toyota Sunnyvale. Others are actually coming into the dealership, trying to find out if their model is on the recall list because of a pedal acceleration problem and wondering when they can schedule a fix.

Toyota Sunnyvale has an estimated 7,000 customers waiting for the part, a stainless steel reinforcement bar that will modify gas pedals on 2.3 million Toyota vehicles nationwide.

The Sunnyvale dealer is receiving about 200 calls per day from customers.

Once the part arrives, the 40 technicians at the dealership will have to be trained on how to install it. According to General Manager Andy Simms, Toyota will send experts out to conduct that training, then "actually execute repairs on a few cars" and then appointments will be made for customers. Many dealers, including the one in Sunnyvale, plan to stay open 24 hours to handle the workload.

"We look forward to Toyota coming in the latter part of this week, the first of next week, going through training our people in smaller groups, actually executing the repairs on a few cars, get it right, and then we'll start scheduling our customers to come in at that point," said Simms.

The dealership hopes to service 300 cars per day. The repairs might take up to an hour, which could mean weeks before the issue is resolved.

The company says Toyota owners will have their cars fixed before ones now sitting on dealership lots get that new rod installed.

Although the world's biggest automaker is stepping up now, it is being criticized for its initial response. Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said civil penalties could be levied against Toyota. Congress has also scheduled hearings.

ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says the liability issue is growing everyday that customers' cars are not fixed.

"There are a lot of consumers out there who undoubtedly are going to take Toyota to court and say that because of this defect they've been deprived of the use of their car, and so they're damaged," said Johnson. "The longer these consumers are deprived of the use of their car, the greater the damage is."

And in Sunnyvale, customers continue to buy new Toyotas and those that are part of the recall will be fixed first and then delivered. Margarita Guzman bought a car Tuesday that is not on the recall list. As far as she is concerned, Toyota's reputation for safety is still intact.

"I spoke to the salesman and he assured us that Toyota is doing the best it can to resolve the issue," she said. ""I have confidence in Toyota and I don't have a problem."