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Local Toyota dealerships ready to roll on repairs

Fort Worth-area Toyota dealers have the parts to fix accelerator pedals that sparked a recall and say they will stay open late, 24 hours a day if necessary, to service affected vehicles beginning next week.

"We've already received parts. All the metro dealers have," said Dane Minor, general manager of Freeman Toyota in Hurst.

Toyota will begin mailing letters to owners of recalled vehicles by this weekend, urging them to take the cars to dealers for the repair.

"Dealers around here are all ramping up, extending service hours, to get this taken care of," Minor said. "We're prepared, if we have to, to work 24 hours a day."

The repair, adding a penny-sized steel part to the accelerator pedal assembly, should take about 30 minutes. Minor estimates that his staff can handle 200 repairs a day. He had 500 parts on hand.

Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last month because their accelerator pedals may stick and cause uncontrolled acceleration. Last year, Toyota recalled 5 million vehicles to fix floor mats that could inadvertently trap the accelerator pedals.

Even without the recall and freeze on sales of affected models, the widespread news media coverage of Toyota's problem has affected new car sales. Toyota's January sales fell 16 percent, even as most other dealers' grew, and the company estimated that it lost 20,000 sales due to the recall and freeze.

"January is always slow," Minor said. "We weren't tracking well before this came out, but it's certainly slowed down."

The consumer advisory service Kelley Blue Book reported Wednesday that the number of consumers researching Toyotas on its Web site has dropped significantly since the latest recall and sales freeze.

Kelley Blue Book said surveys on its Web site (www.kbb.com) showed that 20 percent of potential buyers who were considering a Toyota before the latest recall no longer are. Consideration of Toyotas dropped to third place, behind leader Ford and second-place Chevrolet.

"The real core of the story is, Toyota had for so long been a gold standard, but now in the public perception they're tainted," said James Bell, executive market analyst for kbb.com.

Dealers say they expect some effect on sales in the short term, but not once customers' cars are fixed and the recalls fade from the news.

"Toyota is going to take care of its customers like it always has, and the people know it," said John Easley, general manager of Toyota of Fort Worth.

Toyota is giving U.S. dealers up to $75,000 to help them offer extra measures like house calls. Toyota has around 1,200 U.S. dealers.

"Within the next several days, you will receive a check from us (no strings attached) with a simple request -- 'do the right thing on behalf of Toyota customers,'" Toyota group Vice President Bob Carter said Tuesday in the letter to dealers, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The checks are based on the number of cars each dealer sold in 2009. Dealers who sold fewer than 500 cars will get $7,500. Dealers who sold more than 4,000 will get $75,000.

Carter thanked dealers for their extraordinary measures and suggested making additional hires to help with recall repairs, creating dedicated recall service lanes and offering complimentary oil changes.

BOB COX, 817-390-7723

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