Lexus Models Among Toyota Recalls; 1.7 Million Cars Worldwide Pulled Over Fuel Leakage Issues

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Toyota Motor Corp. announced today it was recalling nearly 1.7 million vehicles worldwide because of varying defects that may cause fuel leakage.

Models affected by three separate recalls include the GS Lexus luxury models in North America, the Avensis sedan and station wagon models in Europe, and the Noah subcompact, RAV4 sport-utility vehicle, and Wish cars in Japan.

Nearly 1.3 million of the cars in question are in Japan, making this the country's second-largest recall in history.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said the company first heard about the problems related to fuel-leakage in August 2008.

So far, Toyota has received 77 complaints overseas and 142 in Japan.

No accidents related to these leakage problems have been reported so far, according to Nolasco.

Vehicle Issues and Problems

Issues range from a faulty fuel pipe to problems with a sensor that measures the car's fuel pressure.

In one instance, improper installation of that sensor may cause it to loosen as a result of engine vibration, and cause leakage overtime.

The problem affects 255,000 Lexus cars sold in North America and 10,000 sold in Europe.

Lexus GS 300/350 models sold between 2006 and 2007, early 2009 models of the Lexus IS250, and early 2008 IS Lexus 350 sold in the U.S. are all affected by the recall.

Another problem, which affects 141,000 Avensis cars sold in Europe and New Zealand, involves irregular fuel pipes that increase the likelihood of cracks and further leakage.

"Because of the stresses on the pipe, the way it is polished, there is an uneven thickness to the pipe," Nolasco said. "In some rare cases, it could be too thin and lead to a crack. Additives in the fuel could also encourage the pipe to crack."

The same issue was found in 16 Japanese models, including the Noah subcompact, RAV4 sport-utility vehicle, and Wish cars.

Nolasco says engineers have determined the amount of leakage is not significant enough to cause any kind of fire, but Toyota dealers are inspecting the vehicles for fuel leakage, and tightening the fuel pressure sensor with the proper torque, if nothing is leaking.

Engineers will replace the gasket between the sensor and the delivery pipe, if a leak is confirmed.

"These are not problems that are noticeable to a driver," Nolasco said. "As far as performance, there's no immediate effect."

Toyota Works to Rebuild Reputation

The latest recall comes as Japan's largest automaker struggles to regain its reputation, and rebuild an image, battered by massive recalls that began in late 2009.

Faulty floor mats and sticky gas pedals were suspected of causing unintended acceleration, and forced the company to recall more than 12 million vehicles worldwide.

In December, Toyota agreed to pay a $32.4 million fine to the U.S. government to settle investigation into its handling of two recalls.

To date, Toyota has paid more than $48 million in fines.

Auto analyst Koji Endo, with Advanced Research Japan Co. in Tokyo said the latest recall is unlikely to dent Toyota's earnings, despite the estimated $240 million hit he expects the company to take.

"There is that perception of here we go again," Endo told the Associated Press. "That hurts Toyota's image, especially in North America."