Toyota Recalls 1.5 Million Cars Over Brake Fluid Leak

Company said that no accidents had been linked to the defect.

Toyota on Oct. 21 announced a safety recall of about 1.5 million vehicles worldwide to fix a brake fluid leak that it warned can gradually diminish braking performance. The company said it would voluntarily recall 740,000 cars in the United States and almost 600,000 in Japan to fix the problem.

It was also recalling 50,000 autos in Europe, 60,000 in China, 30,000 in Australia and 50,000 in other Asian nations, said a Toyota spokesman in Japan.

He said that no accidents had been linked to the defect.

Toyota is recalling the cars to repair a flaw in which "a small amount of the brake fluid could slowly leak from the brake master cylinder", which would lead the brake warning lamp to illuminate, the company said. If at this point the brake fluid is not replaced, "the driver will begin to notice a spongy or soft brake pedal feel and braking performance may gradually decline", Toyota USA said.

The latest recall came as Toyota became more aggressive in catching possible defects as part of a campaign to improve its consumer image, said Tatsuya Mizuno, auto analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory. But he warned that frequent recalls could also damage Toyota's image as a quality carmaker. "The company is very keen about customer reputation and recalls more often than before, as a precaution. It's better to recall in advance and in big volume," Mizuno said. "On the other hand, the series of recalls make us think that Toyota is (just another carmaker and) not far superior to the others as it was previously," he said.

The cost of the latest recall should be small and is unlikely to affect Toyota's finances, Mizuno added.

The autos affected by the recall are the 2005-2006 models of the Avalon, the 2004 through 2006 non-hybrid models of the Highlander, the Lexus RX330 and the 2006 Lexus GS300, IS250 and IS350 vehicles, Toyota USA said.

In Japan, Toyota announced it would recall more than 600,000 cars spanning 13 models, including the Crown, Mark X, Lexus IS and GS, according to filings submitted with the transport ministry.

While in 11 of the models Toyota will fix defects in fuel pump wires and brake master cylinders, the total also includes more than 1,800 units of its Voxy and Noah models with a speedometer defect.

In China, a local Toyota official also reported a separate recall of tens of thousands of vehicles for a faulty dust cover for the brake system.

The latest moves by the auto giant come after a series of mass recalls of around 10 million vehicles worldwide announced in late 2009 and early 2010. It led to U.S. congressional investigations and a record 16.4 million dollar fine to settle claims it hid accelerator pedal defects blamed for dozens of deaths. Since then Toyota has seen its U.S. market share shrink by 1.4 points to 15.2% for the first nine months of this year.

Toyota said earlier this month it had completed more than five million repairs on U.S. vehicles affected by the series of recalls. Toyota said 80% of the 2.3 million U.S. vehicles affected by the "sticky pedal" defect had been repaired while 86% of the 148,000 Prius and Lexus vehicles recalled for braking problems had also been fixed.

Despite its woes Toyota, a global leader in green car technology, said last week that its Prius petrol-electric hybrid, launched in 1997, had topped the two million sales mark by the end of September. Its popularity has continued despite Toyota last year recalling 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles to repair a flaw in the braking system.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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