Midstate Toyota dealers have been fielding calls from customers who worry they might be driving one of the 2.3 million vehicles in the United States recalled by the automaker because of a defective accelerator.
“When this came out, you’re going to have a thousand calls,” said Joe Ruth, general manager of Lowe Toyota in Warner Robins. “We’ve got a phone bank set up. ... We’ve been telling people to please let us inspect the car.”
Leven Holliman, general manager of Butler Toyota in Macon, said his dealership is in a similar situation.
“Since the news story broke, we’ve had all sorts of calls,” he said. “We received exactly a hundred calls. After we explained to the drivers (about the issue), we’ve had no one who is overly concerned.”
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Toyota issued a recall of eight different brands of its cars and trucks after an issue arose in which the gas pedal could become stuck after repeated use. The problem has been traced to one of Toyota’s subcontractor plants in Indiana that produces the pedal.
A new part has been created that will fix the problem, and most dealerships should be getting their parts by the end of the week or the weekend.
Not all of the cars listed in the recall have the affected part. Toyota dealerships are offering inspections to any customer with a recalled model to see if that vehicle needs the replacement part.
Ruth and Holliman have received calls from customers claiming to have received speeding tickets because of the gas pedal sticking, but Ruth said that was unlikely because those drivers already would have had to be driving faster than the speed limit when the pedal supposedly stuck.
Neither general manager said it’s been difficult to sell cars because of the recall. Ruth said for the first time in the dealership’s history, Lowe Toyota is the top Toyota dealership in Georgia because of high sales in January.
Holliman said he has separated the cars on his lot so that the ones with the defective part aren’t being test-driven. Holliman said he’s still selling those cars but isn’t delivering them until the replacement parts have been installed. He said he estimates about 30 percent of the 300 cars on the lot are affected.
Ruth has about 700 cars on his lot, and 40 to 50 percent need the replacement part, he said.
Mallary Scheer of Macon bought a 2009 Corolla in September in part, she said, because of Toyota’s reputation for quality.
“I found out (about the pedal issue) reading the newspaper,” she said. “Anytime you have pedal that doesn’t decelerate, it’s a concern. ... I got (the car) because Toyotas are dependable, they last a while and (they have good) fuel efficiency.”
Scheer said she doesn’t have any safety concerns about driving the car and that getting it fixed is a minor issue for her.
“I’ve been happy with the car,” she said. “It’s just an inconvenience. Although I’m not worried, it does create a little bit of a concern.”
Holliman and Ruth are both extending the hours of their service departments to handle the cars that need parts replaced. It only takes about 20 or 30 minutes to do the replacement, they said. The service departments will handle Toyotas from anyone, even if those cars weren’t bought at those specific dealerships.
Ruth said Lowe Toyota is offering customers who are concerned the use of a rental car, free of charge, until the replacement parts arrive.
Holliman said the media attention is unfortunate because Toyota vehicles have a strong reputation for quality.
“This is the first recall I know of,” he said. “We, of course, are very surprised by it. We learned about it on the news like everyone else. Our first instinct is to take care of our customers.”