Toyota has begun shipping parts and installation instructions to more than 1,200 dealers to repair accelerators in 2.3 million cars and trucks that might be prone to sticking, the carmaker said Monday.
Toyota executives said shipment began Monday of the repair parts - thin, stainless steel reinforcement bars, or spacers, to slightly increase the distance between two parts in the accelerator assembly. The two parts are intended to slide against each other with some resistance to make the pedal's "feel" steady and stable to the driver, but Toyota said the faulty parts are prone to sticking to each other due to excessive moisture that causes excessive friction.
Executives apologized to consumers and expressed embarrassment about Toyota's unintended acceleration problems, which began in 2007 with reports that some accelerator pedals were getting trapped under certain all-weather floor mats, and has burgeoned into a full-blown public relations nightmare.
"Toyota has always prided itself on building high-quality and reliable cars that consumers can depend on," Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, told reporters in a telephone conference call Monday, "and we have let them down."
Toyota also is recalling 4.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles to reshape and later replace accelerator pedals to avoid mat entrapment, including some involved in the new accelerator pedal recall detailed Monday.
Executives said notices to owners of the eight models in the accelerator recall would begin being mailed out near the end of this week.
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said that once they know their dealers have the parts and procedures, consumers needn't wait until they receive their notices to make an appointment to get their cars repaired.
Principal Leo Sternlicht of Riverhead Toyota said Monday that his service people are willing to examine any cars whose owners were concerned about their safety, but that they had not yet received the parts or the installation instructions to make the recall repair.
"We've been told we'd have them by the end of the week," he said.
Toyota's top U.S. sales executives said they expected many of their U.S. dealers to extend service hours to accommodate the 2.3 million cars and trucks involved in the recall. In some cases, officials said, dealerships would stay open 24 hours until the work was done.
Sternlicht said he won't change his service hours until he knows how many parts he'll be getting and over what period of time.
"We do expect to add additional hours," he said. "But it's premature for us to decide what they're going to be because we don't know the quantity of parts we're going to get."
One local Camry owner, Brian Bartichek of Massapequa Park, Monday welcomed Toyota's announcement of a fix for the sticking accelerator that, Bartichek says, has plagued his car. "All I wanted was for them to fix my car. They're starting to move, so I'm happy."
Bartichek, whose problems were described in an article in Saturday's Newsday, said his dealership took his Camry in Saturday and gave him a loaner car to drive until the Camry is repaired.
Q&A on Toyota recalls
Q: I have one of the affected cars and I want to get the recall repair done ASAP. What can I do?
A: While you do not have to wait until you get your recall notice, you do have to wait until your dealer gets the repair parts and the instructions on how to install them.
Q: And when will that happen?
A: Toyota officials wouldn't be pinned down to a time frame during a 45-minute telephone news conference Monday, but they said shipments to dealers have begun.
Q: So, maybe I can have the work done sometime next week?
A: Don't count on it. Toyota's 1,200-plus dealers will have to process 2.3 million cars. Some company officials are telling reporters it could take months. Toyota says many dealers will expand service department hours, in some cases to 24/7, but you might still have to wait longer than you'd like to get your car fixed.
Q: How long does the repair take?
A: About 30 minutes, according to Toyota. And, of course, it's free.
Q: What if my vehicle is also affected by the floor mat recall? Which will be addressed first?
A: Toyota says it is working to coordinate the pedal entrapment and the sticking pedal recalls to minimize the number of customers who will have to have two service visits.
Q: Is my car safe to drive?
A: Toyota claims incidents of stuck accelerators are relatively rare but says that if you experience "an accelerator pedal that is hard to depress, slow to return or is unsmooth during operation," you should contact a Toyota dealer for assistance.
Q: And if my car seems fine right now?
A: Be alert for the symptoms and be prepared to take emergency measures if the accelerator sticks. Toyota and the auto experts at Consumer Reports advise stepping hard and steadily on the brake pedal, then shifting the transmission into neutral and bringing the car to a safe stop.
Q: Won't my engine blow itself up if it's at high revolutions and I shift into neutral?
A: Consumer Reports notes that most cars have "rev limiters" to prevent damage to the engine if its revolutions exceed a certain level, usually marked by a red line on the tachometer. In Toyota products, power is cut off to the fuel injectors.
Q: How about if I turn off the engine to be sure?
A: Not recommended when the car is moving; doing so will disable the power-assists to the steering and brakes.
Q: I'm waiting for delivery of a new Toyota that hasn't been built yet. How long before they restart production?
A: Toyota said it plans to resume production on Monday.
Q: I'm waiting to take delivery of one of the 120,000 cars on dealer lots. How much longer will I have to wait?
A: That's fuzzy. Partly, it depends on the dealership and how busy it is repairing cars already in owners' hands, which, Toyota said, will get priority. And Toyota hasn't said when it will lift the stop-sale order on those cars.