It was a bumpy ride for automakers on Wednesday, as industry giants Ford and Toyota each announced widespread recalls on popular vehicles.
The Ford Motor Co. recalled more than 400,000 Windstar minivans in cold-weather states - including Utah - to fix brackets and mounts that could separate from the vehicle's subframe and cause a driver to lose control.
The recall, the latest quality issue to afflict older Windstars, covered 425,288 minivans from the 1999-2003 model years sold or registered in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Ford said there had been seven crashes and five minor injuries connected to the recall.
Meanwhile, Toyota announced in Tokyo that it is recalling 1.7 million vehicles, the bulk of them in Japan, for various defects that may cause fuel leakage -- adding to the recent quality control woes of the world's No. 1 automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it was recalling a wide range of models, including the IS and GS Lexus luxury models in North America and the Avensis sedan and station wagon models in Europe.
There were no accidents suspected of being related to the defects, according to Toyota. Toyota said it had received 77 complaints overseas, 75 of them in North America, and more than 140 in Japan.
Ford has recalled more than 600,000 of its minivans in the U.S. and Canada since August to address rear axles that can corrode and break. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has been investigating corrosion problems from the 1999-2003 model years. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that the minivans were still under review.
The recall affects brackets and mounts connected to the front subframe, which carries the engine, transaxle, steering rack and front suspension. NHTSA said in a posting on its website that if the mounts separated from the frame, a driver could experience reduced steering control.
The recall is limited to states where road salt is used during the winter. They include: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The minivans received increased attention after a 28-year-old Massachusetts man was killed in October when the rear axle of his Windstar cracked in half, sending the vehicle crashing into a building. The family of Sean Bowman said they were not informed of the recall by Ford until a week after the crash.
NHTSA issued a consumer advisory in November asking owners to bring their vehicles to a dealership immediately to be examined for signs of rear-axle corrosion. NHTSA said then that only about 75,000 recalled minivans had been brought to dealers.
In the latest recall, Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said the Dearborn, Mich., auto company had received fewer than 100 complaints over the corrosion issue with the subframe. "These high-mileage, older vehicles have provided dependable, safe service for tens of billions of miles," Sherwood said.
Ford said it would notify affected owners in mid-February and dealers would inspect the vehicles and install reinforcement brackets as parts become available. The company said if the vehicle does not pass inspection before parts are available, Ford would provide a rental vehicle. If a dealer determines that the front subframe cannot be repaired, the company said it would offer to buy back the minivan.
Owners can contact Ford at 866-436-7332.
For Toyota, the largest number of the affected vehicles was in Japan at nearly 1.3 million -- the second-largest auto recall in the nation's history -- and involving two different problems.
The biggest recall in Japan was in 2005, also by Toyota, when nearly 1.3 million Corolla cars were recalled for a faulty headlight switch and some other problems, according to the Japanese transport ministry.
The latest quality hitch comes on top of the spate of massive recalls that began in late 2009, mostly in North America and which now cover more than 12 million vehicles.
Koji Endo, auto analyst with Advanced Research Japan Co. in Tokyo, said the latest recall will cost Toyota about 20 billion yen ($240 million), but that won't dent its earnings performance by much.
"But there is that perception of here we go again, and that hurts Toyota's image, especially in North America," he said.
Toyota is likely trying to be aggressive with recalls, carrying them out quickly before they turn into bigger problems, and so the latest one is not a sign that quality is taking another plunge for the worse at the automaker, Endo said.
Toyota has been struggling to regain its once solid reputation among buyers for producing reliable vehicles. The biggest damage to Toyota's image has been in the U.S. where its response was seen as dallying.
The recalls since late 2009 include defective floor mats and gas pedals that get stuck, some of them suspected of causing unintended acceleration or runaway vehicles.
In one of the problems announced Wednesday, an improper installation of a sensor to measure fuel pressure may cause the sensor to loosen as a result of engine vibration over time, and possibly cause fuel leakage, the company said. That problem also affects 280,000 Lexus cars sold abroad, 255,000 of them in North America and 10,000 in Europe.
Included under that recall are the 2006 through 2007 Lexus GS300/350, 2006 through early 2009 Lexus IS250, and 2006 through early 2008 Lexus IS350 sold in the U.S.
Lexus dealers will inspect the vehicles for fuel leakage and will tighten the fuel pressure sensor with the proper torque, if nothing is leaking. If a leak is confirmed, the gasket between the sensor and the delivery pipe will be replaced, it said.
That same problem was also found in the Crown and Mark X models sold in Japan.
The second problem, which affects 141,000 Avensis cars sold in Europe, and New Zealand, was caused by irregular work on the fuel pipe, which may cause cracks and fuel leakage, Toyota said.
That problem was also found in 16 models sold in Japan, including the Noah subcompact, RAV4 sport-utility vehicle and Wish cars.
Toyota also recalled 6,000 trucks made by group company Daihatsu Motor Co., which were sold under the Toyota brand in Japan, for a problem with a metal part attaching a spare tire to the bottom of the truck. The tire could come loose and fall on the road, Toyota said.
In December, Toyota agreed to pay $32.4 million in fines to the U.S. government to settle the investigation into its handling of two recalls. The latest settlement was on top of the $16.4 million fine Toyota paid earlier.
Toyota has stayed popular in Japan, partly because government incentives for green vehicles sent sales of its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid booming.
Chief Executive Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the automaker's founder, has vowed to regain trust and be quicker in responding to customer needs.
Toyota has held the spot of the world's biggest automaker in annual vehicle sales for three years straight, including last year though General Motors was close behind. But some believe that Toyota's relentless drive for growth hurt quality.