Image: Dean Baker
Michael Conroy  /  AP
Service technician Dean Baker fixes the accelerator on a recalled vehicle at Andy Mohr Toyota in Avon, Ind., on Wednesday.
updated 2/3/2010 8:01:03 PM ET 2010-02-04T01:01:03

Toyota's dealers, who have started to repair defective gas pedals in millions of U.S. vehicles, are extending hours, making house calls and offering other services as they try to repair the damage to Toyota's reputation.

Toyota Motor Corp. recalled eight vehicles Jan. 21 and stopped selling those vehicles five days later because their accelerator pedals could stick in a depressed position. Toyota is sending dealers a piece of steel about the size of a postage stamp that can be inserted into the accelerator mechanism and eliminate the friction that causes the problem.

Jim White Toyota, a dealership in Toledo, Ohio, received about 350 steel pieces, or shims, and began repairs Wednesday morning. By mid-afternoon, about 25 cars were fixed, said Terry Treter, service manager.

Repairs were going smoothly and a little faster than the half-hour Toyota estimated, he said. Technicians do a test drive as part of the repair.

The dealership hired three people to handle phone calls and repair scheduling and will add more people if needed, Treter said. He also said the dealership will stay open as late as necessary.

"I'll stay until midnight," Treter said. "Whatever they want. I won't turn anyone away."

Treter said customers have been calm despite a warning early Wednesday from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said owners of recalled Toyotas should stop driving them. LaHood later said he misspoke and told owners to get their cars repaired.

At Lee Toyota Topsham in Topsham, Maine, service manager Dan Daigle expected to begin repairs Thursday morning. He has already received around 300 calls from customers and expects to keep technicians working until at least 10 p.m. each night.

"If we need to add people to handle the extra volume, then that's what we'll do," he said.

Video: Hearts sinking in Toyota city Earl Stewart, who owns a dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., is sending a repair van to the homes of customers for the first time, since some are too nervous to drive their vehicles to the dealership.

Toyota is giving U.S. dealers payments of up to $75,000 to help them offer extra measures like house calls.

"Within the next several days, you will receive a check from us (no strings attached) with a simple request — 'do the right thing on behalf of Toyota customers'," Toyota group vice president Bob Carter said Tuesday in the letter to dealers obtained by The Associated Press.

Carter thanked dealers for their extraordinary measures. He also suggested other steps, like additional hires to help with recall repairs, dedicated recall service lanes and complimentary oil changes.

"Toyota dealers already know the first and most critical step of rebuilding the confidence and trust of Toyota owners is the interaction and service they receive in your dealership," Carter said.

Toyota is sending checks this week based on the number of cars each dealer sold in 2009. Dealers who sold fewer than 500 cars will get $7,500. Dealers who sold more than 4,000 will get $75,000.

Toyota has around 1,200 U.S. dealers.

Besides the 2.3 million U.S. vehicles recalled because of the gas pedal problem, Toyota recalled 5 million vehicles to fix floor mats that could inadvertently trap the accelerator pedals.

Carter said Toyota is considering other marketing efforts to win back customers' confidence, but he didn't elaborate. Toyota may have to offer rebates and low-interest financing to lure back customers, which could force other automakers to raise their incentives.

Toyota's January sales fell 16 percent, and the company estimated it lost 20,000 sales due to the recall and sales stoppage.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Toyota takes another hit

  1. Transcript of: Toyota takes another hit

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    Newscast: US secretary of transportation comments on Toyota problems

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Today the US secretary of transportation , Ray LaHood , told Americans they should stop driving their Toyotas until the gas pedal problem gets fixed. He then, about 90 minutes later, thought better of it, perhaps realizing a lot of Americans have no choice and were at the moment on the road in their Toyotas . The secretary of transportation then dialed back his remarks. Toyota , however, remains mired in a big problem. Car sales are still frozen. There is skepticism regarding their suggested fix of the problem. And there has never been a bigger gift to US carmakers. Phil LeBeau covers the car business for CNBC and for us. He's back in our New York studios tonight with more on this. The story continues to unravel.

    PHIL LeBEAU reporting: And it -- and it got worse for Toyota today. And the big question is whether even Toyota knows everything that may be wrong with its cars and trucks. Today the secretary of transportation said his office is investigating the electronics in Toyota gas pedals. Toyota facing more questions tonight about the safety of its vehicles. Already struggling with a massive recall, Toyota took another hit today when the man in charge of making sure Americans drive safe cars issued this blunt warning for Toyota owners.

    Mr. RAY LaHOOD (Secretary of Transportation): If anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it. Take it to Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it.

    LeBEAU: Secretary LaHood later backtracked and said those with recalled Toyotas should contact their dealers. Toyota issued a statement telling owners if they have problems with their gas pedals to "please contact your dealer without delay. If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive." Frustrated Toyota dealers are still days from beginning to fix any cars.

    Mr. DENNIS LAUZON (Toyota Dealer): It's got people fearful, you know, but in the end I believe Toyota did the right thing.

    LeBEAU: Adding to Toyota 's problems, the new Prius . News today the Japanese government has warned Toyota to investigate possible problems with the anti-lock braking system with the 2010 Prius , fueling questions about whether Toyota took action on safety concerns quickly enough, Toyota says it first learned of sticking gas pedals in US cars in October and launched an investigation. So did the Department of Transportation . In December, DOT officials flew to Japan to urge Toyota executives to move quickly on the issue, a message US officials repeated in a meeting with Toyota executives last month, leading to the recall of 2.3 million cars and trucks two weeks ago. Despite full-page ads and top executives saying they have the problem under control, not everyone is convinced.

    Ms. JEAN JENNINGS (Automobile Magazine President): We can't make this stuff up. I mean, we can't -- we don't know what's wrong. We don't know if they know what's wrong.

    LeBEAU: We may get more answers overnight when Toyota reports quarterly earnings and executives talk with reporters in Japan . The impact of this investigation will be huge for Toyota .

    WILLIAMS: And the problem is -- she had it right -- we don't know what's wrong. We don't know if they know what's wrong.

    LeBEAU: Exactly.

    WILLIAMS: That's the problem. Phil LeBeau , thanks. Always a pleasure to have you here.


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