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Area dealers start on Toyota repairs

Fri., Feb. 5, 2010, 6:35 p.m.

Spokane County resident Jon Livingston brought in his 2008 Toyota Tundra truck for an accelerator fix Friday afternoon.

Like potentially several thousand Toyota owners in the area, Livingston owns a vehicle with a problem that can sometimes make the accelerator stick. It took about 40 minutes to get the part installed at the Larry H. Miller Toyota Spokane dealership, in downtown Spokane.

But Livingston got more than quick service. The retiree, who was wearing a Gonzaga hat, was greeted by dealership General Manger Bob McLean, who gave Livingston two tickets to next week’s GU basketball game against St. Mary’s.

That approach — rewards and a zealous commitment to service — has been adopted by the three area Toyota dealerships in dealing with a massive, worldwide recall affecting more than 4 million vehicles.

McLean said he would have handed Livingston two movie passes, but he hasn’t gotten them yet. So the game tickets were the alternative on Friday.

He and his managers have discussed offering service coupons for free oil changes, McLean said.

Tony Cruikshank, service manager at Coeur d’Alene’s Parker Toyota, has taken the same approach. If an owner calls with concerns about the safety of a vehicle, Cruikshank has arranged a rental car the driver can use until his or her car is fixed.

He and Parker Toyota General Manager Mike White have also discussed recall rewards, including movie passes, he said.

All this effort is focused on ensuring customers feel satisfied that dealers want their service and will go out of their way to soften the inconvenience and uncertainty attached to the recall effort.

Said Cruikshank, “We want customers to be well taken care of during their visit. We see this (recall) as an opportunity to make them our friends,” he said.

Some Toyota owners don’t take their vehicles to dealers for service or parts, and it’s those people Cruikshank and his counterparts at other dealerships here hope to claim as loyal future customers.

The other upside, noted McLean at Larry H. Miller, is the chance to bring more people into the dealership during a normally slow time of year.

“Our showroom hasn’t been this full for awhile,” he said. “This is a good chance to give those customers (in the recall) an outstanding experience. We can address their concerns and get them through the system quickly and make sure their vehicles are fixed the right way.”

In addition to Parker and Larry H. Miller, Appleway Toyota in Spokane Valley began receiving parts on Wednesday. All three dealers added longer hours, allowing technicians overtime to make sure car owners can come in after work to get recall repairs done.

Smith, general manager at Parker Toyota, said he’s added extra workers to handle customer calls, greet them when they arrive and make sure in follow-up contact that they’re satisfied.

Dealers’ added costs — to cover workers’ overtime or rewards programs such as movie tickets — will be paid by Toyota.

The car maker’s 1,200 U.S. dealers will receive payments ranging from $7,500 to $75,000 to help reimburse for extended hours, car washes and customer benefits. The amount each dealer gets, noted Smith, depends on total annual vehicles sold.

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