The Cambrian

Kathe Tanner: One car, two minds

Timing really is everything. The last six weeks have been … a bit daunting. On Jan. 9, we bought a barely used 2010 vehicle with 2,600 miles on it. The car was in great shape and the price and value seems excellent.

My left brain figured we’d found a bargain.

My right brain loves the car and the color, a glistening, metallic royal blue. I’d had several dreams the night before we bought it about the two of us zooming around town in a bright blue car—which is weirder than it sounds because I knew the car we’d planned to test drive the next day was white. (You can cue the “Twilight Zone” music any time now.)

The flamboyant blue gives flair and personality to a vehicle that some reviewers call a stodgy touring car … rather like a chunky retired gal who can still flirt, show some cleavage and shake her booty.

We were upgrading from a 1994 Honda with 106,000 miles on it and a 1998 Chrysler van with 140,000 miles. So, our timing was good? We scored?

Maybe. Our new car is a 2010 Toyota Camry. Sigh. Less than two weeks after we bought it, our car was recalled, along with millions of other Toyota models deemed at risk for sudden, unexplained acceleration and sticking gas pedals.

Then Toyota stopped selling the affected models, new or used, and the situation turned into a media feeding frenzy.

I began obsessing over every surge, squeak and rattle in the car. I repeatedly called the local dealership for reassurance, rather like a new mother who calls the hospital’s emergency room at 2 a.m. because her crying baby has the hiccoughs and she doesn’t know what to do.

Since then, there’s been wave after wave of bad news, including advice from a foot-in-mouth government official who advised Toyota owners to not drive their cars. He retracted the statement soon thereafter. Whew.

My right brain still loved the car, but my left brain was feeling battered because our shiny new deal appeared to be tarnishing.

Finally, I had to sit me and my two brains down. I needed to be rational amid all the emotional claims and

counterclaims.

1. We haven’t had any problems. Toyota and government officials maintain our car is safe to drive (although they’ve issued two more recalls for it since the gas-pedal fiasco).

2. Recalls happen all the time. Recalls are good (repeat after me). They mean the manufacturer is fixing a problem we haven’t had yet to make sure we don’t ever have it.

3. There have to be more eyes on this recall than watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. With the world looking over their shoulders, Toyota scientists and governmental regulators must be more careful than ever, searching for any hidden causes for the problems. While they’re at it, they should check everything else about the cars. Perhaps that’s how they found the possible brake/steering line glitch, topic of the latest recall?

4. “Service advisers” at the county’s Toyota dealership have been professional, helpful, reassuring and favorite- uncle friendly throughout this emotional roller-coaster ride. This can’t be easy on them, either.

5. Any perceived resale-value loss, if there is one, is moot in our case. We don’t plan to trade in or sell the car anytime soon. As evidenced by the age and mileage of our previous vehicles (which we still have, by the way), we want to drive our “Aussie Blue” until she drops…hopefully many, many miles from now.

On Feb. 4, our car received her gas-pedal transplant, a postage-stamp- sized extra piece of metal designed to prevent weird wear and sticking after she has 100,000 miles or so under her belts.

As my adviser explained it, the changes spread the pedal’s pressure out over a larger area. He likened the difference to having your foot stabbed by a stiletto high-heel versus being trod upon by a flip-flop.

We’ve learned a lot about our Camry in a very short period of time. We still love her. What’s most important, both our right and left brains trust her. In fact, we never stopped driving her.

So, maybe timing is everything after all.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at ktanner@ thetribune news.com. Read more “Slices” at thecambrian . com.

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