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Toyota may recall Corollas over steering problems; U.S. to launch probe

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received about 150 complaints about the car's steering system. The probe would be its fifth open investigation of a Toyota vehicle.

February 17, 2010|By Jim Puzzanghera and Jerry Hirsch

Reporting from Los Angeles and Washington Jerry Hirsch -- Adding to its growing safety woes, Toyota Motor Corp. is considering recalling the popular Corolla because of potential steering problems.

Also, U.S. officials plan to inform the automaker as early as Thursday that they are launching an investigation into steering problems with 2009 and 2010 Corollas amid complaints from some drivers that they were having trouble controlling their vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received about 150 complaints about the vehicle's steering system. The NHTSA investigation would involve 363,000 Corolla vehicles from the 2009 model year and 136,000 from 2010, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, did not elaborate because Toyota had not been formally notified of the probe.

A Corolla recall would add to the company's deep business and public relations problems as well as increase concern by U.S. officials about the safety of Toyota vehicles and the responsiveness of company executives to consumer complaints.

To address safety concerns, Toyota's top executive, Akio Toyoda, said during a news conference in Japan on Wednesday that all future company vehicles would include a brake-override system, which cuts the engine when the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time. Such a system would prevent unintended acceleration, which is responsible for two of the company's large recalls. New Toyotas also would have an improved onboard data recorder, similar to an airliner "black box," he said.

Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota's executive vice president, said Toyota was "ready to respond" and was awaiting information from NHTSA regarding the Corolla. The company is aware of fewer than 100 complaints and is trying to narrow down the causes, he said.

In December, the agency began investigating whether the electronic control module in some Corolla and Matrix models could cause them to stall without warning.

The Corolla steering probe would represent the fifth open investigation of a Toyota vehicle by NHTSA, not including the documents it asked for Tuesday about previous recalls.

The agency is also looking into the engine stalling issue, as well as complaints about the electronic stability control of the 2003 Sequoia, frame corrosion in the 2000 and 2001 Tundra and recent problems with Prius hybrid brakes.

Toyota has recalled about 8 million vehicles worldwide in recent months for a variety of problems, including about 6 million in the United States. About 2 million of those U.S. vehicles have been caught up in two different recalls.

Toyota sold about 1.3 million Corollas worldwide last year, including nearly 300,000 in the United States. The Corolla trailed only Toyota's Camry as the second-best-selling car in the U.S. last year, according to Autodata Corp.

jim.puzzanghera @latimes.com

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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