Toyota recalls 670,000 Prius hybrids

Toyota Motor Corp. announced two safety recalls for its flagship Prius hybrid.

The automaker said the steering intermediate extension shafts in 670,000 Prius cars sold in the U.S. need to be inspected and in some cases replaced. And 350,000 of those hybrids also will have to have their electric water pumps replaced.

Toyota will recall another 2 million vehicles worldwide, including the Prius and the Corolla, to fix the same problems.

The gas-sipping Prius has become an important vehicle for Toyota, giving the company a reputation for producing fuel-efficient, green vehicles and quietly becoming one of the best sellers in the automaker’s lineup.

Toyota is on track to sell more than 250,000 Prius hatchbacks and station wagons this year, which will make it one of the best-selling passenger cars in the U.S. Toyota sells more hybrids in the U.S. than all other automakers combined.

In the U.S., the recall includes 2004 through 2009 model year Prius hybrids.

The steering shaft problem results from a manufacturing error in which certain parts in the system did not have the required hardness and can deform.

Toyota said that in some of the cars, the electric motor that drives the water pump that circulates coolant through the hybrid components can shut off. In some cases, this can cause the hybrid system to stop while the vehicle is being driven.

There have been no crashes or injuries reported for these two conditions.

Owners of vehicles covered by these safety recalls will receive an owner notification letter via first-class mail starting in December. Any authorized Toyota dealer will perform these recalls at no charge.

This is the second large recall by Toyota in barely a month.

In October, the Japanese automaker recalled 2.5 million vehicles nationally to fix a faulty power window switch that has been linked to at least nine injuries and several hundred reports of smoke and fire. In one instance reported to federal regulators, a passenger in a Camry was burned while trying to use a loose article of clothing to extinguish a fire caused by the switch.

The big recalls come as Toyota’s vehicle sales in the U.S. have been surging after being derailed last year. Sales were hurt by manufacturing disruptions and inventory shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake. Massive recalls in 2010 for sudden-acceleration problems and other safety defects also added to Toyota’s sales woes.

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