REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- In another corporate sputter for beleaguered Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp., the company announced Wednesday that it will recall more than 420,000 vehicles in the U.S. in connection with potential steering problems.
The safety recall to replace what the company termed “the crankshaft pulley on the V6 engine” affects 550,000 cars worldwide -- 283,200 Toyota and 137,000 Lexus vehicles.
The problem reportedly affects 38,000 cars in Japan and an additional 25,000 in Australia and New Zealand. In Europe, 14,000 vehicles face recall along with 10,000 in the Middle East and 14,000 in Asia outside Japan.
There have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to the problems, Toyota said in a release from its American headquarters in Torrance, Calif.
If not corrected, the outer ring of the engine's crankshaft pulley may become misaligned with the inner ring, causing noise or a warning signal to light up. The belt for the power steering pump may become detached from the pulley, making it suddenly more difficult to turn the driving wheel, the release said.
Since September 2009, Toyota has issued more than 13 million product recalls in the U.S. alone. With the company facing hundreds of lawsuits, safety experts and industry analysts contend that quality problems could haunt the world's largest automaker for years to come, affecting both its reputation and bottom line.
In February, Toyota announced that it would recall 2.17 million vehicles to correct mechanical defects that could cause them to accelerate out of control.
The latest U.S. recall includes the 2004 and 2005 Camry, Highlander, Sienna and Solara, the 2004 Avalon and the 2006 Highlander HV. The Lexus recall affects the 2004 and 2005 ES330 and RX330 and 2006 RX400h, officials said.
Starting in January, Toyota said, the company will mail owners a notification to make an appointment with an authorized dealer to have their cars inspected once a sufficient number of replacement parts have been produced.
Meanwhile, consumers who detect any abnormal noises are asked to make an appointment to have the vehicle inspected, the release said.
The company urged owners to with questions to visit the company's websites at www.toyota.com/recall or www.lexus.com/recall. They can also contact Toyota in the U.S. at 800-331-4331 or Lexus at 800-255-3987.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: A Toyota test facility in Torrance, Calif. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times