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Zipsters bear brunt of Toyota recall

With its entire Duke fleet subject to the Toyota recalls, including the Prius model (above), Zipcar left only one car—a Toyota Matrix—available to its Duke users.
With its entire Duke fleet subject to the Toyota recalls, including the Prius model (above), Zipcar left only one car—a Toyota Matrix—available to its Duke users.

Members of the Duke community affected by the Toyota recall have been forced to choose between altering their daily routines or just hoping their vehicles continue to function normally.

A large portion of those whose day-to-day activities have been disrupted are Zipcar users at Duke. Zipsters, as members of the car-sharing service are called, rely on the availability of Zipcar’s fleet, which includes three Toyota Prius cars and three Toyota Matrix cars, according to the University’s Zipcar Web site. All of these vehicles are subject to recalls.

On Feb. 8, Toyota recalled thousands of its latest-model Camrys and almost half a million 2010 Priuses and other hybrid cars to fix steering and braking problems. This decision came in the wake of the more than eight million vehicles that Toyota has recalled in the past months worldwide for gas pedals sticking to or becoming entrapped in floor mats and related glitches.

“We remain in close contact with Toyota on all safety-related recalls, and will pull any impacted cars from our fleet immediately,” Zipcar wrote in an e-mail sent out to Zipsters. “We are making sure that there are Zipcars available on your campus.”

Nonetheless, the vehicle removal has impacted Zipsters ability to make reservations.

“It’s pretty inconvenient because West Campus Zipcar selection has gone from four cars to one car,” sophomore Will Beckman, a Zipcar member, said. “Toyota Matrixes are not for rent—it’s hard to get a car when I want it.”

Despite the difficulty of renting a car, Beckman is glad that Zipcar is complying with the recall. While driving one of Zipcars’ 2010 Priuses, he said he experienced some problems.

While riding in the car with another Zipcar member, Beckman noticed that when the break was activated, the traction control light and the corresponding beep went off, leaving him unsure if the brakes would malfunction.

“I have a Prius at home, so I was confused because it is an electricity-based car,” he said. “Is it just a light going on, or are the brakes going to disengage on their own? It happened more than once... we weren’t moving both times.”

Beckman did not report this instance to Zipcar and it is impossible to know how many similar experiences have gone unreported.

Zipcar spokesperson John Williams said he had not heard of any complaints from Zipcar users at Duke, adding that student safety is a top priority. As of Sunday, only three of the six Zipcars assigned to Duke were available for use.

Another segment of the Duke community affected by the Toyota recall are those students who live off campus.

Alli Brandt, a senior who lives off campus, decided not to take any chances on her 2009 Corolla, which is currently under two recalls.

“I called the dealer I bought it from and they helped me get in contact with a dealer in Raleigh,” Brandt said, adding that she had to offer to pay for a 5,000-mile service maintenance before the dealership was responsive. “But it wasn’t too inconvenient.... I dropped it off at 1 p.m. and had it back by 5 p.m.”   

Others have chosen to deal with the problem when it will not be such a disruption to their schedule.

“I haven’t done anything about it yet,” said Brett Cook, a junior who drives a 2009 Prius. “I’m planning to take it in around spring break. I’ve been putting it off because I live off campus, and it would be really inconvenient.”

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