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Answers for Toyota owners

DAN STRUMPF
AP Auto Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010; 1:16 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- Toyota is sending parts to its dealers to repair faulty gas pedals in 2.3 million U.S. vehicles. Some dealers were starting repairs Wednesday. Here is some information for vehicle owners.

Q: How do I know if my car or truck is affected?

A: The following eight models in the U.S. are affected by a recall involving faulty gas pedals: the 2009-10 Corolla compact car, the 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-10 Avalon full-size sedan, the 2007-10 Camry midsize sedan, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-10 Tundra pickup, the 2008-10 Sequoia SUV and the 2009-10 RAV4 crossover.

There are some exceptions. Not all models of the Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander are affected by the recall. All of these models produced in Japan, and some produced in the U.S., have accelerators made by another parts supplier whose components are not known to be problematic. Some of these vehicles can be identified by checking the vehicle identification number, or VIN.

All Matrix, Avalon, Tundra and Sequoia models listed above are included in the recall.

Q: What is a VIN and why is it important?

A: A VIN is a 17-character sequence of numbers and letters that is unique to each vehicle. Your VIN can be seen through the windshield on the front of the driver-side dashboard.

If you drive one of the potential exceptions -- the Camry, RAV4, Corolla and Highlander -- check the VIN. If it begins with a "J," that means it was produced in Japan and isn't included in the recall. If it does not begin with a J, only a technician can determine if the vehicle has been recalled, so you'll have to take it to a dealership.

Q: OK, my car is covered by the recall. Now what?

A: The next step is to have it fixed at a dealership. Starting this week and continuing over the next several weeks, Toyota will send letters to customers telling them when and where they can have their vehicles repaired.

Q: Won't dealers be swamped? How long will it take to get an appointment?

A: Toyota says dealers will have extended hours and some will keep their doors open around the clock to fix customer vehicles.

Q: Is my vehicle safe to drive for the time being?

A: Toyota has said a stuck pedal is very rare. Drivers who haven't experienced the problem can continue driving their cars or trucks until they're instructed by Toyota to bring them in for repairs.

On Wednesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said owners of the recalled cars and trucks should stop driving them altogether, but he later said he misspoke and owners should take their cars to dealers if they are unsure if there's a problem.

Q: What should I do if my pedal gets stuck?

A: If your accelerator gets stuck in a depressed position, stop the vehicle with a firm and steady application of the brakes. Do not pump the brakes.

Then, shift into neutral and continue braking until the vehicle comes to a stop on the side of the road. If you are unable to shift to neutral, Toyota recommends shutting off the engine, but do not remove the key from the ignition, which could cause the steering wheel to lock.

Once you've pulled your car to the side of the road, shut off the engine and contact the nearest Toyota dealer.

Q: If I've experienced the problem, should I wait for Toyota to contact me?

A: No. Drivers who have experienced a sticky or stuck pedal should stop driving their cars and call a Toyota dealer right away. Many dealers are holding these cars and trucks until replacement parts arrive and providing drivers with loaner cars in the meantime.

Q: What exactly is the cause of the problem, and what is the fix?

A: Engineers traced the problem to a friction device in the assembly that is supposed to provide the proper pedal "feel" by adding resistance, Toyota said in a statement.

The device has a shoe that rubs against a nearby metal surface during normal pedal use. But wear and environmental conditions can over time cause the pedals to not operate smoothly or in rare cases stick partially open.

The company said a steel reinforcement bar will be installed into the gas pedal assembly, reducing the friction.

Q: How long will the repair take?

A: Toyota says the repair involves about 30 minutes of work. Customers won't be charged for the repair, Toyota said.

Q: How long will the repair last?

A: Toyota says the repair is good for the life of the vehicle and will be warranty-covered.

Q: I thought Toyota's problem was over floor mats trapping the gas pedal. Now I'm being told the problem has to do a flaw with the gas pedal itself. Which is it?

A: Toyota has issued two recalls to fix problems of unintended acceleration. The current recall surrounds a flaw in the gas pedal system and affects 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S.

In November, Toyota issued a separate recall of 4.2 million vehicles due to a risk of the driver-side floor mat trapping the gas pedal. That recall affects the following models: the 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and the 2006-2010 Lexus IS250/IS350.

That recall is still ongoing, and last month, Toyota expanded it by 1.09 million vehicles across five models: 2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Venza, 2009-2010 Matrix, and 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe, which is made by a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors Co.

The Avalon, Camry and Tundra models listed above -- encompassing about 1.7 million vehicles -- are covered by both recalls. Toyota says it intends to fix vehicles covered by both recalls in one visit.

Q: I still have questions. How can I get them answered?

A: Toyota has directed customers to www.toyota.com/recall. They can also call the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331.

In addition, Consumer Reports has produced a detailed video on how to stop a runaway vehicle at consumerreports.org.

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