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While some owners wait for fixes, new Toyotas roll off the lots again

February 5, 2010 |  3:34 pm

Toyota pedal My colleague Jerry Hirsch reported today that Toyota has resumed sales of eight models pulled from its lots because of suspect gas pedals. The move comes as owners of millions of recalled vehicles are lining up to get their gas pedals fixed by Toyota dealers.

I understand why Toyota would want to resume sales as soon as it could; after all, the idled vehicles included some of the company's most popular models, including Camrys, Tundras and Corollas.

Still, I can't help wondering how the owners of recalled vehicles feel about seeing new-car buyers drive off with upgraded vehicles before those with the older cars have gotten the fix.

Hirsch quoted Toyota spokesman Mike Michels as saying, "We now have more than enough parts at dealers to take care of the flow of repairs. Dealers may sell a new car if the repair is made." Michels also pledged that repairs of new vehicles wouldn't hamper the dealers' ability to get Toyota owners back on the road.

In fact, the company said in a news release, some dealers are keeping their service bays open around the clock to repair gas pedals. The half-hour procedure involves inserting a "precision-cut steel reinforcement bar" into the accelerator assembly to eliminate the friction that caused a small number of pedals to stick.

All the same, owners of some recalled vehicles may have to wait a fair amount of time to get their cars or trucks repaired. Toyota has about 1,450 dealers in the U.S.; my back-of-the-envelope calculation says that it would take an average of nearly 800 hours of work by each one to get through all 2.3 million recalled vehicles. The delay at any given dealership would depend on how many workers it dedicated to installing the new part and how many customers responded to the recall.

Any friction Toyota generates by resuming sales before it completes the recall repairs will fade quickly if its customers feel good about their cars, as most of them do. And the chance of anyone experiencing sudden unexpected acceleration while waiting for a repair is quite slim.

But as the Times' editorial board noted last week, the bigger risk for Toyota is if its current solution to the problem doesn't end the complaints about cars and trucks speeding up unbidden. Congressional investigators and federal regulators are both looking at the possibility that problems were caused by malfunctioning electronics or software; for its part, Toyota says it has found no evidence of any such problem.

-- Jon Healey

Photo: A gas pedal removed from a recalled 2007 Toyota Avalon. Credit: Tim Boyle / Bloomberg

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