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Dealerships, Toyota owners deal with fallout from transportation secretarys comments
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A few “misspoken” words in Washington had the phones ringing Wednesday morning at a Gainesville Toyota dealership.

When U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a House Appropriations panel hearing that car owners affected by Toyota’s recall should stop driving their cars, the effect of his words was immediate.

“As soon as it hit the news, customers began to call us,” said Jimmy Hernandez, fixed operations manager at Milton Martin Toyota. “It’s a little disappointing when you hear someone in a position of leadership in our government make that kind of irresponsible statement.”

Within hours of the statement, LaHood’s office retracted it, saying he meant only to tell car owners with concerns to take them to the dealers for repairs.

The recalls, involving potential issues with sticky gas pedals, cover 2.3 million cars in the U.S. Another 5 million were recalled due to problems with floor mats interfering with the gas pedal.

Toyota officials said in a statement Wednesday that they appreciated LaHood’s clarification of his remarks about the recall.

“We want to make sure our customers understand that this situation is rare and generally does not occur suddenly,” the automaker said in a statement. “In the rare instance where it does occur, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes.”

Gainesville’s Heyward Gnann, who owns a 2008 Camry, said he has had no problems with his car and was surprised to learn of the issues in recent news reports.

Gnann isn’t overly concerned about the safety of his car, but said he will call the Athens dealership where he bought it to ask whether he needs to bring it in for modifications.

Gnann said he called the Athens dealership earlier for an unrelated service issue and reached an operator who had obviously been receiving numerous calls about the recall.

“I’m sure they’ve been just inundated with panicked car owners trying to determine what to do next,” he said.

Hernandez said Milton Martin Toyota has been ramping up preparations this week and should be ready to begin making the modifications on Monday.

The dealership has hired five additional workers to help with what is expected to be an increased workload and has extended business hours for four days out of the week until all the repairs are made, Hernandez said.

Technicians have been undergoing training and parts for the modifications began arriving this week, he said.

“We’re getting ready, it’s just a process,” he said.