Toyota Recall: How to Find a Safe Car

car salesman

Last Updated Feb 18, 2010 11:02 AM EST


What's a Toyota buyer to do? Let's face it, you don't kick the tires of a Camry if you're looking to impress dates or push the boundaries on curvy country roads. You buy it because you believe it's safe and reliable. Fears of a stuck accelerator pedal on the freeway can quickly blow away that notion.

In fact, a new Kelley Blue Book survey says 27 percent of car shoppers who had been considering Toyota now won’t buy one, due to the recalls. (MoneyWatch Editor-at-Large Jill Schlesinger feels just the opposite.) And some rival auto companies, smelling blood in the water, are dangling enticements: Ford and General Motors have been quietly offering rebates of up to $1,000 to buyers who trade in their Toyotas (or Lexuses, which are also made by Toyota). A variation on this incentive offers drivers who are leasing Toyotas sweeteners to get out of their deals. Nissan’s TV ads are all about “safety” and “quality.”

If you’re eager to unload your Toyota and switch brands, watch out for dealers setting ridiculously low trade-in values. Before negotiating, check the trade-in value for your vehicle at Kelley Blue Book, updated weekly to reflect changing conditions.

And whether you’re trading in or not, remember when you start shopping that hard bargainers snag the best prices. So go to auto research site Edmunds.com and check the invoice price (what the dealer paid) and the Edmunds True Market Value or TMV (average transaction price in your region). In general, aim to pay 1 to 2 percent over invoice and a price that’s at or below the TMV number.

Since Toyota buyers are typically fanatical about safety and quality, MoneyWatch has come up with the following list of competitors’ brands and models that are also known for those attributes.

Toyota Substitutions

For anyone having second thoughts about a Toyota, here are alternatives, built by competitors, to three of the most popular Toyota models. Each of the substitutes was highly ranked in the most recent J.D. Power and Associates initial quality survey.

Cars with ‘Smart Pedals’

Meanwhile, there are other choices you can make to protect yourself and your passengers. New ‘Smart Pedals,’ or brake override systems, neutralize stuck accelerators, so if the accelerator and brakes are pressed at the same time, the engine automatically slows to idle. You can find this technology in cars from Chrysler, Dodge, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz as well as GM performance models such as the Camaro SS. Hyundai plans to put Smart Pedals in all its cars by the end of the month, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Keep in mind that the driver has an override too: shifting the car into neutral. This is probably easier in a manual, if for no other reason than drivers are so used to depressing the clutch and moving the stick. Either way, the car will stop accelerating regardless of what the engine is doing.

Brands with High Quality Ratings

Some brands rank especially well for avoiding defects in their new cars. Hyundai improved strongly in the J.D. Power survey, coming in as No. 4 for overall manufacturing quality. Porsche and Cadillac were in the top three. The highest-ranked brand? Toyota’s Lexus.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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