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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 28, 2010

Isle Toyota dealers on alert


Advertiser Staff and News Services

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Earl Stewart, owner of Earl Stewart Toyota, shows the faulty accelerator pedal on a recalled vehicle in North Palm Beach, Fla. The recall affects eight models and 2.3 million vehicles.

ALAN DIAZ | Associated Press

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HELP'S JUST A CALL AWAY

Owners of recalled vehicles will be notified by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. In the meantime, Servco advised customers to contact their dealers for additional information:

• O'ahu: 839-2273

• Neighbor Islands: 888-272-5515

Information also is available on Servco's Web site, www.toyotahawaii.com.

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Servco Pacific Inc. yesterday said it has received no confirmed reports of accidents in Hawai'i in connection with the current national recall involving sticking gas pedals in select Toyota vehicles.

The recalled models were built in North America. Servco estimates that about 8,000 vehicles sold in Hawai'i are part of the recall, or less than 10 percent of all Toyotas now on the road in the Islands.

"The safety of our customers is always our top concern and we are carefully monitoring developments so we can provide our customers with the latest information and next steps," said Mark Fukunaga, chairman and CEO of Servco.

Servco and other Toyota dealers across the country were swamped with calls yesterday from concerned drivers a day after the company announced it would stop selling and building eight models because of faulty gas pedals.

Toyota insisted the problem sudden, uncontrolled acceleration was "rare and infrequent" and said dealers should deal with customers "on a case-by-case basis." But drivers of Toyo-tas and those who share the road with them were left with uncertainty.

In an unprecedented move, the company said late Tuesday it would halt sales of the eight models which make up more than half of Toyota's U.S. sales volume to fix the gas pedals. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models, affecting 2.3 million vehicles.

A private firm said it had identified 275 crashes and 18 deaths because of sudden, uncontrollable acceleration in Toyotas since 1999.

In North Palm Beach, Fla., Clare Roden showed up at a Toyota dealership worried about the 2010 Camry she purchased recently. She was relieved when she was told her accelerator was not a problem part.

"I didn't want to get out on I-95 because people are not very safe drivers there anyway," Roden said as she waited in the lobby while mechanics checked her car. "I wanted to get it down here as soon as possible."

The dealership owner, Earl Stewart, said about half his cars are affected by the recall, a huge hit to business. He said customers had been flocking in with concerns about the accelerator on all of the models. He sent some home with loaners.

"They're very frightened," he said. "Many people are concerned their accelerator pedal is going to stick and they're going to be involved in an accident."

At Walser Toyota in Bloomington, Minn., owner Doug Sprinthall took calls all day yesterday from people wanting to know if their cars were affected by the freeze.

"These things are not unheard of. ... What's different about this is it's just so many vehicles," he said.

Toyota has said the problem appears to be related to the buildup of condensation on sliding surfaces in the accelerator system that help drivers push down or release the gas pedal. The gas pedal mechanism can wear down, causing the accelerator to become harder to press, slower to spring back or stuck.

Outside safety experts say it could also have to do with the complicated electronic sensors that relay the message from the gas pedal to the engine, the design and location of the sensor system and a lack of an override mechanism.

The sales and production halt involves some of Toyota's best-known lines, including Camry and Corolla sedans and the RAV4.