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Toyota Recalls 1.7 Million Cars Worldwide Due to Fuel Sensors

Toyota Canada, which was trying to recover from dents to its longstanding reputation for quality and durability, took another hit Wednesday when the company sent notices to owners of 11,700 Lexus luxury cars about possible fuel leaks.

The automaker said on its Web site: "Due to insufficient tightening of the fuel pressure sensor connected to certain engine fuel delivery pipes (those with nickel phosphorus plating), there is a possibility that the pressure sensor could loosen over time. If loosening occurs, fuel could leak past a gasket used in the connection between the sensor and the delivery pipe and through the threaded portion of the sensor."

A safety recall to inspect the installation of fuel pressure sensors involves about 245,000, 2006 to 2009 Lexus GS and IS models sold in the United States. The recall also includes 10,000 vehicles sold in Europe to inspect whether the company improperly installed fuel pressure sensors that could eventually cause leaks. A separate recall involves 141,000 Avensis cars sold in Europe and New Zealand. These cars may have irregular fuel pipes that increase the likelihood of cracks and further leakage. The recall affects certain 2006-2007 Lexus GS 300/350 mid-size sedans; 2006-2009 IS 250 and 2006-2008 IS 350 sports sedans.

In the aftermath of last year’s recalls which ranged from sticky accelerator pedals to electronic stability controls, the company said it would address problems quicker and communicate better. It is Toyota’s first recall this year and follows 17 notices in Canada involving more than 700,000 vehicles in 2010 that damaged the company’s image and contributed to a significant drop in sales.

The latest notices are part of a broader Toyota recall of 1.7 million vehicles around the world to check for three potential problems in cars and trucks, the company said. Toyota said it is unaware of any accidents here because of improper installation of the sensors.

“If loosening occurs, fuel could leak past a gasket used in the connection between the sensor and delivery pipe and through the treaded portion of the sensor,” Toyota added. Lexus dealers will inspect the vehicle for fuel leakage and if there is none, they will tighten the fuel pressure sensor with the proper torque.

Toyota said if dealers confirm a fuel leak, they will replace the gasket between the sensor and the delivery pipe, and tighten the sensor. There will be no charge to vehicle owners for inspections and repairs.

The overall recall affects vehicles primarily in Japan where the company is sending notices to owners of 1.3 million models regarding concerns about fuel leaks.

Furthermore, Toyota is recalling several thousand trucks made by subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. over a problem with a metal part that attaches a spare tyre to the bottom of the vehicle. The tyre could loosen and fall on the road, Toyota said.

Despite the problems and subsequent damage in consumer confidence, Toyota has remained the world’s No.1 automaker for three years.

Toyota Canada officials said the recalls have hurt sales but pointed to other factors such as a market shift from smaller models - the company’s core strength - currency fluctuations and higher incentives by rivals for the decline. Its sales slid 16 per cent in Canada last year while most rivals bounced back with strong gains after the deep recession.

Some analysts say Toyota is entrenching negative perceptions with unnecessary recalls and therefore needlessly hurting sales.

“Toyota appears to be run by lawyers who are terrified of another legal case,’ said industry watcher Dennis DesRosiers about more potential costly resolutions to lawsuits or regulator concerns. “In a previous life, the Lexus side of this would have been handled by a service bulletin and nobody would have even known about it.

“Now, they formally recall the vehicles and tell the world that they still have quality issues. Instead of creating an image of being responsive to technical issues with their product, they reinforce the image that there is still a problem.”

In December, Toyota agreed to pay $32.4 million in fines to the U.S. government to settle a probe in the handling of two recalls. It had already paid a $16.4 million fine earlier to U.S. authorities but faced no penalties in Canada.

But Stephen Beatty, Toyota’s managing director, said the company can’t sell new vehicles without properly taking care of existing customers.

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