Toyota Learned of Lexus Engine Problems Years Ago

Toyota Learned of Lexus Engine Problems in 2007
Toyota Learned of Lexus Engine Problems in 2007

Toyota Motor (TM) is once again fending off accusations that it dragged its feet in issuing a recall, this time regarding its latest one, which involves 138,000 Lexus cars in the U.S.

The company knew about a problem part in V-6 and V-8 engines used by its luxury division that could cause stalling, but didn't think a recall was warranted until recently, the world's largest automaker said Monday. Toyota received its first complaint about the problem in Japan in March 2007, a spokeswoman told Bloomberg News.

Last week, Toyota announced plans to recall 270,000 cars worldwide to replace faulty valve springs that could cause engine operability problems. The bad springs may cause abnormal engine noise or idling, according to a statement issued by Toyota. In some instances, "the engine may stop while the vehicle is in operation," it said.

In August 2008, Toyota changed that spring part to prevent the problem, spokesman Hideaki Homma told the Associated Press. That's why the latest recall doesn't affect vehicles produced after that date.

Microscopic Particles Degraded Springs

Toyota had thought the problem was caused by contamination by foreign matter during the manufacturing of the springs and that it was an isolated issue, undeserving of a recall. Toyota altered the design of the spring, made it thicker and improved monitoring of its production, the company said.

"We changed the part in August because then the problem won't happen at all, even if tiny particles enter during manufacturing," Homma said told AP. "We are talking about microscopic particles here."

Models affected by the recall in the U.S. include the following: 2006-08 IS 350; 2007-08 GS 350; 2008 GS 460; 2007-08 GS 450h; 2007-08 LS 460 and 460L; and 2008 LS 600h L, Toyota said in a statement. Vehicles from the 2009 and 2010 model years aren't affected, it said.

In Japan, Toyota has recalled 91,903 Lexus models and some Toyota Crown cars, the nation's transportation ministry said in a statement on its website Sunday, Bloomberg reported. Recalls have been announced in China and South Korea, and the problem may affect as many as 270,000 vehicles worldwide, Toyota has said.

Congress Pressing for More Information

Beleaguered Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars worldwide to fix problems related to unintended acceleration, braking and other issues. Late last month, the company announced it was recalling 17,000 Lexus HS 250h hybrids, after federal auto safety documents showed that fuel spilled from the sedans during crash tests.

In April, the company recalled some 13,000 current model year Lexus GX 460 sport utility vehicles after Consumer Reports labeled the model a "safety risk" because of a defect that could cause it roll over during a common handling maneuver. The designation was removed in May after Toyota provided updated software for the vehicles' electronic stability control program.

Toyota, which paid a record $16.4 million fine for failing to issue a timely safety recall, has been the subject of ongoing congressional scrutiny. Lawmakers last week asked the company to disclose additional information related to the brake override feature that the company has begun installing on new cars and trucks to prevent incidents of unintended acceleration. Toyota has until July 12 to respond to the congressional query.

Toyota, along with other automakers, released U.S. sales figures for June last Thursday. Toyota's sales rose 6.8% compared to a year ago. But the world's largest automaker sold fewer cars than it did in May, and finished third behind General Motors and Ford Motor (F) in overall sales for the month.