World and Nation

Toyota recalls 7.4 million cars because of a fire risk

Toyota announced on Wednesday that it was recalling 7.4 million vehicles worldwide, including 2.5 million in the United States, to repair power-window switches that can break down and pose a fire risk.

The recall, the company’s largest for a single part, could set back its efforts to recover from previous safety issues and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year.

The vehicles affected in the U.S. include just more than one million Camrys. Eight months ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into reports of smoke and fire coming from driver’s side doors. During its investigation, the safety agency collected reports of 161 fires, including 129 from the automaker, and of nine injuries of undefined severity.

Toyota said it had traced the fire hazard to the master switch for controlling the power windows in the driver’s door. Some of those switches may have a “notchy” or “sticky” feeling because the switch supplier did not evenly apply grease.

The automaker said if “commercially available lubricants” were used to fix the problem, the switch could melt “and lead to a fire under some circumstances.”

In its news release, Toyota said there were no crashes related to the recall, but did not mention fires or injuries.

The recalled models in the U.S. are the 2007 to 2009 Camry, Camry Hybrid, Tundra pickup and RAV4; the 2007 and 2008 Yaris; the 2008 and 2009 Sequoia and Scion xD and xB; the 2008 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid; and the 2009 Corolla and Matrix compacts.

In a report to the safety agency, Toyota noted that it originally wanted to conduct a “customer satisfaction campaign” but decided to pursue the recall after discussions with the agency. A customer satisfaction campaign can be as simple as an extended warranty, whereas a recall is far more expensive and demanding, requiring all vehicles to be repaired even if a problem is not evident.

Toyota said it would begin notifying owners by mail of the recall at the end of the month. Technicians will inspect, disassemble and apply grease to the switch free.

Toyota described the recall as voluntary, but under federal regulations once a manufacturer learns of a safety problem it must, within five business days, tell the safety agency of its plan for a recall or face a civil fine.

In 2009 and 2010, the company recalled more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles worldwide to replace floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals.