Cambrian: Slice of Life

Of two minds on new Toyota

Timing is everything, I guess. On Jan. 9, we bought a used 2010 vehicle with 2,600 miles on it.

The left-brain side of the transaction said the price was good and the car checked out as being sound, so we figured we’d lucked out and found a bargain.

We were upgrading from a 1994 Honda that had gone 106,000 miles and a 1998 Chrysler van with 140,000 miles on it. So finally we had a vehicle on which we could rely.

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 lovely blue car — which is weirder than it sounds because I knew the car we’d planned to test drive the next day was white.

The flamboyant color 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.

So, our timing was good, right? We scored?

Well, maybe. Our new car is a Toyota Camry. Sigh.

Yes, we knew about Toyota’s floor-mat saga, but our driver’s-side floor mat was already anchored down.

The problem was solved, right?

Less than two weeks after we bought it, our car was recalled, along with more than 2 million other Toyota models deemed at risk for sudden, unexplained acceleration and sticking gas pedals.

There were few verified instances, but 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. I repeatedly called the local dealership for reassurance, rather like a new mother who calls the 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 one flood of bad news after another. My right brain still loved the car, but my left brain was feeling battered because our shiny new deal appeared to be tarnishing.

Then on Wednesday, a foot-in-mouth government official ramped up the hysteria by advising Toyota owners not to drive their cars, but to take them to the dealer immediately.

Swell, Mr. LaHood, I thought. Are you subsidizing tow services? How are people supposed to get their cars to the dealer without getting behind the wheel?

Soon thereafter, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation put the brakes on and said he had misspoken.

My right brain felt vindicated. My left brain was still in shock.

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 with our car. Toyota says it’s safe to drive, with or without the recall fix. Government officials agree.

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 will be watching the Super Bowl game on Sunday.

With the world looking over their shoulders, Toyota scientists and governmental regulators will be more careful than ever, making sure there aren’t other, hidden causes for the problem … and, while they’re at it, checking everything else in the cars.

4. Service advisers at the local Toyota dealership have been stalwart, professional, helpful, reassuring and friendly throughout this emotional roller-coaster ride. That’s just what the firm needs to re-establish public faith in the brand.

That culminated Thursday afternoon, when I took our car in for her transplant. She now has on her gas pedal 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 belt.

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

5. Any perceived financial 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.

We’ve learned a lot about our Toyota in a very short period of time. We still love it. And what’s most important, we trust it. In fact, we never stopped driving it.

So, maybe timing is everything after all.

Kathe Tanner covers the North Coast for The Tribune and its sister weekly, The Cambrian.