By andrew Katz
WASHINGTON – Six thousand, one hundred and seventy-six — that’s how many Toyota vehicles Darcars Automotive Group has fixed since early February at its four Maryland locations, said Vice President of Customer Relations Rose Bayat.
They’re fixing cars as fast as they can after Toyota recalled more than 11 million vehicles after crashes and reports of cars rocketing out of control. Some were recalled when floor mats became trapped in the accelerator pedal, which led to unintentional speeds, and others for “sticky” throttles.
But with that many cars under recall, dealers can’t get to everyone immediately — so what do you do if your car revs on its own?
“No matter what kind of car you’re driving, if you happen to notice that it starts accelerating, keep your cool about yourself,” said John Davis, host of Maryland Public Television’s long-running automotive series “MotorWeek.”
Then, one-by-one, put both feet on the brake “as hard as you can,” shift the transmission into neutral and steer onto the shoulder of the road, he said, adding that drivers should turn the vehicle off and call their dealership to alert them of the issue.
There are concerns, Davis said, that the problem may not lie with the floor mat entrapment and sticky pedal problems. Some experts, he said, are pointing the finger at electronic throttles in some models.
“With every new technology comes the potential for some kind of problem,” he said. “Electronic throttles (are) a relatively new technology in cars.”
Earlier this month, federal safety officials re-opened a 2005 investigation of Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, joining October’s floor mat entrapment and January’s sluggish pedal recalls.
But in congressional hearings on Capitol Hill this week, Toyota executives testified that they are confident they’ve identified the problem of the unintended accelerations.
Bayat said Darcars Automotive technicians have been working with a field technical service engineer from Central Atlantic Toyota to remedy the problems.
For the “A0A” accelerator recall, she said, technicians will measure the clearance between the pedal and floor, adjust the room between the two and place a steel metal bar underneath to reduce the friction.
“It’s the friction part of it that has made the customers feel as if it were sticky,” said Bayat, adding that theey are also working on the “90L” floor mat entrapment recall by adding a brake override system into the electronic control unit.
Toyota’s sterling reputation for high-quality, problem-free vehicles was further tarnished earlier this month, when the company issued a voluntary safety recall for more than 130,000 2010 Prius vehicles to update software in their anti-lock brake systems.
Mandy Bolgiano, like thousands of drivers, wasn’t pleased that her 2010 Prius may not function properly, but she understands the need for repairs.
“The car moves faster when the brakes are on and you go over a bump,” she said.
Bolgiano, of Silver Spring, was just as bothered with Toyota’s preliminary response that it was “driver perception,” not an actual mechanical or electronic issue involved in the acceleration problem.
“Initially, there was that spin indicating that it was not a problem, it was perception,” said Bolgiano, who purchased her Prius in December. “That’s the most irritating to me.”
“That’s a real extreme problem and I would hate to have that issue and feel they were not really addressing it, they were only repairing a problem that may or may not be a company problem,” she added.
Davis said that Toyota’s troubles are the latest in a string of automakers that have chosen market share over customer satisfaction and safety.
“They end up basically accelerating production, accelerating development and something usually happens on the down side,” said Davis. “It’s usually a recall; it usually shows their quality is slipping.”
Even with the seriousness of the unintended acceleration issue, Davis said Toyota would eventually bounce back.
“The loyal Toyota buyer will probably go right back, but the person who was sort of looking around may realize it’s a more-leveled playing field,” he said. “They will snap back but I don’t think they’re going to rebuild their reputation for quality for a very long time. These things take decades sometimes to correct themselves.”
Bolgiano said she was not sure she would buy a Toyota again because of company decisions that were “based on cost-benefit and not individual safety … that’s a great disappointment for a company with a reputation like Toyota.”
“I’m getting it repaired,” she said. “I’ll see what it does tomorrow.”