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Toyota recall troubles car owners, dealerships

A Toyota Highlander is seen on the floor

A Toyota Highlander is seen on the floor of the 2010 Washington Auto Show on Jan. 27, 2010. Photo Credit: AP

Ellen Ellis was driving on Old Willets Path in December when, she says, her 2009 Toyota Camry began accelerating on its own and slammed into the rear of the vehicle in front. After the crash, she says, her car continued accelerating and hit the car a second time.

She had the car repaired and still drives it but says, "I'm not comfortable getting behind the wheel of the car again."

>> MORE: Toyota recalls additional 1.1M vehicles

Ellis, a 63-year-old state worker from Smithtown, is one of many in this country and Europe who have complained to government safety regulators alleging runaway Toyotas. She says her dealership and a Toyota engineer found no defect in the accelerator, although the engineer said it might have been a case of interference from a floor mat. Ellis filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Association following her Dec. 22 crash. A record on the NHTSA's Web site listed "vehicle speed control" as the component Ellis' complaint specified.

Wednesday, Ellis said she felt vindicated when she read that Toyota had halted production and sales of Camrys and seven other models because of possible sticking throttles. "They're treating me like I'm a crazy person and they're suspending sales," she said.

Toyota also announced yesterday that it is recalling an additional 1.09 million vehicles over floor mat problems, including 2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Venza, 2009-2010 Matrix, and the discontinued 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe, designed and built by Toyota for GM.

Monica Walker, 52, of West Babylon, said her daughter Jessica, 24, has had a Camry since May, and wants to terminate a three-year lease. During an interview Wednesday about the recall, Walker said, "I don't feel safe with her driving this car."

Toyota's unprecedented action this week left owners across the country wondering whether to drive their cars. Meanwhile, would-be owners were unable to take delivery of new cars, and dealers wondered how long the decline in their incomes would last.

For all involved, there were more questions than answers.

Toyota, which became the world's largest carmaker two years ago in large measure on its reputation for high quality, said the sales suspension was open-ended because it had not yet designed a repair. Toyota had announced a week ago that 2.3 million of the cars already on the road would be recalled when a repair is ready.

Local Toyota dealers were reluctant to speak to reporters, saying they had been directed by Toyota to refer queries to the company's public relations office in Torrance, Calif.

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