Toyota is recalling 75,000 vehicles in Britain because of a steering wheel fault which could result in a ‘loss of steering ability’ affecting 2.7 million cars worldwide.
Part of the lower steering column innards near the driver’s knee may ‘deform’ under certain conditions, said Toyota.
The UK recall affects the best-selling petrol-electric hybrid Prius, Corolla, and British-built Avensis models, though globally some nine models are affected.
The steering-wheel fault can lead to ‘a reduction in steering response’ and a ‘loss of steering ability’, said Toyota which insisted no accidents had yet been reported. The Avensis is built at Burnaston in Derbyshire.
The recalls follow nine complaints across Europe about faulty steering and three reported cases of separate water-pump problems which are specific to the Prius hybrids alone.
It is the latest in a long line of Toyota recalls and comes just four weeks after the firm recalled more than seven million vehicles worldwide, including some Corolla and Camry models, over faulty window switches.
Toyota GB said it had registered recalls for certain Avensis and Corolla models (July 2001 to March 2009) and for Prius (July 2003 to April 2009) with the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). All models are ‘previous generation’ and not new models currently on sale, it said.
Setting out the problem, Toyota GB said: ‘On certain Avensis, Corolla and Prius models (July 2001 to April 2009) there is a possibility of an issue with a component in the steering system, prompting a knocking or rattling and possibly a reduction in steering response.'
Components called ‘splines’ – a form of tubular locking device - which ‘connect the extension shaft to the steering gearbox may deform if the steering wheel is frequently and forcefully while driving at slow speeds.
Toyota says affected vehicles 'remain safe to drive' - and that there have been no reports of accidents caused by the problem. Nine cases of the problem have been reported in Europe.
Toyota dealers will carry out inspections to see if parts need to be replaced - which will take around an hour.
Explaining the technical problem with the faulty steering, Toyota said there was ‘insufficient hardness of the steering shaft’.
‘This deformation may create increased internal clearance and the splines may eventually, over time, wear out.’
Japanese executives said this ‘could result in loss of steering ability.’ Toyota dealers will inspect the extension shaft to determine if it needs to be replaced and, if confirmed, will replace it. The inspection and repair will take approximately one hour.
On the water pump fault affecting only the Prius, Toyota said:’ There is an electrically driven water pump that circulates coolant through the hybrid components. There is a possibility that the electric motor installed in the water pump may stop functioning, leading to illumination of various warning lights in the instrument panel.
In limited instances, the water pump electric power supply circuit fuse may open causing the hybrid system to stop while the vehicle is being driven.’
‘Should this happen it will be indicated by a warning light being illuminated on the dashboard.’
It noted: ‘It is possible that some Prius will require attention for both issues.’
Toyota GB said: ‘Customer satisfaction is of paramount importance to Toyota. Consequently, Toyota has decided to conduct recall activity to replace the hybrid system water pump and check steering shaft performance on the affected cars.’
oyota GB said it will contact the owners of all affected vehicles within the next six weeks, asking them to make an appointment to bring their car to their nearest Toyota dealer.
Dealers will replace the hybrid system water pump and/or inspect the steering shaft: ‘If the steering shaft does not meet Toyota inspection criteria, it will be repaired.’
It said the water pump replacement ‘should take no more than an hour-and-a-half’.
If required, the steering shaft repair should be completed in an hour. This work will be carried out free of charge.
Owners are being directed to the Toyota GB web site (www.toyota.co.uk) where they can check their registration number and VIN numbers to see if their vehicle is within the affected range of production.
Toyota is Japan's biggest carmaker and for a period became the world’s biggest.
But experts say that dash for growth led to Toyota ‘taking its eye off the ball’ in terms of quality – something on which the Japanese car-maker had established a reputation so strong its ethos was taught in business schools – the ‘Toyota Way’.
Toyota's latest announcement pushes the number of recalls this year to more than 10 million, not far short of the number recalled in 2009 and 2010 over floormat and accelerator pedal issues.
That recall involved more than 12 million vehicles and led to fines from US regulators and reputational damage for Toyota whose sales suffered badly.
The Japanese carmaker is still trying to rebuild its reputation and regain customer trust after that fiasco, which saw the firm's head apologising to consumers.
But its efforts to do so have been dealt a blow over the past few weeks, as it has announced recalls totalling nearly 10 million vehicles.
However, some analysts said that while the latest recalls, which are voluntary, were a setback, they might not cause as much damage to its reputation as the ones in 2009.
Koichi Sugimoto, a motor industry analyst with BNP Paribas in Tokyo said: 'Nobody is perfect. Vehicles nowadays are very complicated. The company is taking appropriate measures to fix the problems, so I don't think this will cause significant damage to Toyota's reputation.'
But critics say Toyota's image as a producer of high quality cars has nevertheless been dented once again.