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Another recall; are car owners paying attention?

A man inspects new Toyota cars on display at Melody Toyota February 1, 2005 in San Bruno, California. Toyota and Nissan reported healthy gains in their U.S. sales as the nation?s two biggest automakers, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., reported soft sales in January.

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Kai Ryssdal: About the only business other than mortgage processing that you'd probably rather not be in today is making cars. Specifically -- Toyotas.

The company said today it's recalling 1.5 million cars. You add that to the 8.5 million Toyotas already under recall for that whole unintended acceleration thing, and it's a headache. This time it's problems with fuel pumps and brakes. Turns out Honda has the same brake problem: it's planning to recall an undetermined number of cars. And the government said today Ford's got engine fire problems.

If you feel like you've heard this story before, well, you kind of have. It's been a year of recalls. Which kind of got us wondering whether drivers even pay attention to 'em anymore.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports.


Alisa Roth: When Toyota first started recalling cars for "unintended acceleration" last year, drivers really paid attention.

Earl Stewart: Well concern would be too light a word. We had terrified customers.

Earl Stewart owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Flo. He says it's a little different this time.

Stewart: Thus far today, not a single call. I'm standing around my showroom floor here at my Toyota dealership and nobody's come up to me and voiced any concern whatsoever.

Part of it may be that nobody's died as a result of the problems with the brake fluid and fuel pumps, and they haven't even caused any accidents.

Dave Sargent is in charge of global vehicle research at JD Power. He says drivers tend to head straight to their dealers when they think a problem is serious enough to cause a crash.

Dave Sargent: For other issues where consumer doesn't perceive immediate safety concern, there may be a little recall fatigue.

Not including today's announcement, Toyota says it's repaired about half the cars and trucks it's recalled in the last year. Some Toyota drivers just haven't bothered to get their cars fixed.

But some buyers are clearly thinking twice before they buy a Toyota. In September, its U.S. market share was 15 percent, which is a few points lower than last year.

But the company still has plenty of loyal drivers. Jeff Mires' Toyota Avalon was recalled earlier this year for floor mat problems. And now it's being recalled again.

Jeff Mires: When I get the notice, I'll take it in. But other than that I'm not worried about it.

He drives 1,000 miles a week, and if he had to buy another car today, he'd get another Toyota.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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