NEW YORK — Toyota says it's found a fix to its problem of sticky accelerator pedals.
That problem has triggered one of the company's largest recalls, an unprecedented halt in sales and a public relations headache.
But amid the avalanche of news reports, some drivers are still scratching their heads over the basics. How does a pedal get "sticky"? And how worried should I be? Here are some answers.
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. Crossovers are SUV-like in size but sit on a car instead of a truck frame.
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. Parts will begin arriving at dealerships this week and repairs will begin as early as this weekend.
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.
"I imagine we'll be open till at least midnight," said Adam Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, who owns a Toyota dealership in Maine.
Q: Is my vehicle safe to drive for the time being?
A: Toyota has said a stuck pedal is very rare. Drivers who have never experienced the problem can continue using their cars until they are instructed to take their model in for repairs, the automaker says.
Rik Paul, automotive editor for Consumer Reports, which has suspended its "Recommended" ratings on the recalled Toyota models, says: "As long as the accelerator pedal is operating smoothly and freely and returning to its upright position, the car is likely fine to drive. Just be aware of those symptoms."
Q: What should I do if my pedal gets stuck?
A: Safety experts say the best thing to do if the gas pedal sticks is to hit the brake hard and hold it firmly, then shift into neutral or shut the car off and steer to the curb. They say drivers should not pump the brake.
Q: Suppose 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. Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said a good technician likely will be able to finish the repair in less time than that.
Customers will not 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 because of a risk of the driver-side floor mat trapping the gas pedal. That recall affects the following models: the 2007-10 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-10 Toyota Avalon, 2004-09 Toyota Prius, 2005-10 Tacoma, 2007-10 Toyota Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and the 2006-10 Lexus IS250/IS350.
That recall is still ongoing, and last month, Toyota expanded it by 1.09 million vehicles across five models: 2008-10 Highlander, 2009-10 Corolla, 2009-10 Venza, 2009-10 Matrix, and 2009-10 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 800-331-4331.
In addition, Consumer Reports has produced a detailed video on how to stop a runaway vehicle at consumerreports.org.