Never say never. Dealerships took the unusual step for the next few weeks to handle the glut of recall work.
Ed Herzog of Minnetonka worked on his computer in the lounge at Walser Toyota in Bloomington Sunday morning while waiting for his Camry to get recall work done. “I went to church at 5:30 Saturday so I could be here today,” Herzog said.
Ed Herzog of Minnetonka would normally have been at church at 9:30 Sunday morning.
Instead, he was one of about a dozen people in the waiting room at Walser Toyota in Bloomington while technicians inserted a tiny shim to prevent the gas pedal from sticking on his 2010 Camry.
"I went to church at 5:30 Saturday so I could be here today," he said.
Walser was one of at least four Twin Cities dealerships to take the highly unusual step--a first for Walser-- of opening their service centers on Sundays for the next few weeks to handle the crush of work to fix gas pedal and floor mat problems that led to the recall of millions of vehicles.
But the dealerships could soon be flooded with another round: Toyota Motor Corp. has told U.S. dealers it is preparing to repair the brakes on thousands of its Prius hybrids amid reports it has decided to issue a recall for the vehicle in Japan. It was unclear whether Toyota planned a formal U.S. recall.
Walser Toyota's General Manager Charlie Swenson said the technicians are prepared to weave the Prius work into their already busy schedules. In addition, the dealership is working on its fleet cars that need the work. "If you're a technician at Toyota, you're not worried about a lot of down time right now," he said.
Sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles has been blamed for at least 19 fatalities and 815 crashes since 1999. On Jan. 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million U.S. cars and trucks because their accelerator pedals could stick in a depressed position. That came on the heels of another recall of about 4.2 million U.S. Toyota and Lexus vehicles to correct a problem in which the pedals could become stuck under a floor mat.
Walser handled about 100 recalled cars on Sunday and plans to work on about 120 next Sunday, when more staff will be available, Swenson said. After Sunday, he said work was done on about 350 of the estimated 3,500 cars that the dealership expects to handle.
'Nervous, to a degree'
At Walser, most customers said they came Sunday because it was convenient with their work schedules and they wanted to get the work done right away. About 18 people were in the waiting room at Rudy Luther Toyota in Golden Valley, which had about 100 cars scheduled Sunday.
Herzog said that he has been "nervous, to a degree," driving his Camry. He said he did research on the Internet to see what he should do in case he experienced a problem.
Carol Galbus took it one step further. With her 2006 Toyota Avalon under recall, she and her adult son have been practicing driving it through her Winona neighborhood and putting it into neutral "just in case something happens."
She has good reason to be worried. Last September, she was pulling into her garage and crashed into a work bench, damaging the wall board, because the Avalon wouldn't stop. "It kept going and I kept hitting the brake. We hit the work bench at a pretty good speed," she said.
Underdahl Toyota in Winona blamed the accident on the car's rubber floor mats but Galbus, 69, isn't so sure. She had used those same mats on her previous Avalon and never had a problem. She's also experienced engine "surges" now and again, which she said the dealer chalked up to the car's computer system not adjusting to her as the driver.
The garage accident caused $2,200 in damage to the car and Galbus wants Toyota to pay for her $500 deductible. No word on that from the dealership so far.
Galbus is waiting to get a letter about the recall but doesn't want to be among the first to get it done. "I want to make sure they know how to do it before I bring mine in."
Her kids are nervous about her driving the Avalon. "They say, 'Why don't you just get rid of it?' I say, 'Who would take it?'''
In addition to Walser and Rudy Luther, service centers for Toyota City in Brooklyn Park and Burnsville Toyota were open Sunday. Dealerships in Minnesota usually are closed on Sundays because of the state's "blue law," which bans the sale of automobiles then.
Walser Automotive Group CEO Paul Walser said he can't remember dealerships opening on a Sunday in the 30 years he has been in the business. "If it was a recall without any safety issues related to it and it was a small number, you'd just do it through the normal course of business," he said Sunday.
Checks from Toyota
Walser also said that Toyota has sent dealerships checks--with the amounts based on sales volume-- to handle the additional costs related to the recall. Walser Toyota, for example, was given $40,000. "They basically said it's money to help in any way you need it," he said.
Jackie Krueger of Lakeville said she was glad to come in on a Sunday to get her 2009 Camry fixed. Like Herzog, she educated herself on what to do if she had a problem while driving. "I've also been more aware of speed to have more control if something happened."
Roger Howe of Edina, who is retired, said he called Walser at midnight on Tuesday to set up an appointment and was surprised someone answered. He said Sunday seemed like a good day to get the recall work done on his 2007 Avalon: "I thought I'd be able to get in and out a little faster than normal."
Linda Muldoon, 67, of south Minneapolis, said she called Walser right away, mainly because she didn't want to have to wait long to be able to get her 2009 Corolla in. She felt fortunate because she didn't have to drive it much since she generally takes the bus to her job as a psychologist. "If I had been driving every day I would have been more nervous."
Muldoon, who had her repair done Friday, said the recall has been in the back of her mind. "My husband and I ... decided if something happens, we'll just slam on the brakes," she said.
"The main thing is I bought this car because of Toyota's reputation for reliability ... and it seemed like a good buy. I thought I might drive this car for the rest of my life. Now I feel a little sense of betrayal."
But Al Balkcum of Minneapolis took it all on stride as he sat in Walser's waiting room Friday while mechanics worked on his wife's 2009 Camry. "It's a recall. We called and made an appointment" to get it taken care of, he said. "Our last four cars have been Camrys and probably our next four will be Camrys."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707