Toyota recalls 550,000 cars for steering issue

LOS ANGELES In the United States, the automaker is recalling 283,200 /*Toyota*/ brand cars, including the 2004 and 2005 Camry, Highlander, Sienna and Solara, the 2004 Avalon and the 2006 Highlander HV. Its recall of 137,000 /*Lexus*/ vehicles includes the 2004 and 2005 ES330 and RX330 and 2006 RX400h.

Another 100,000 vehicles are being recalled in Asia, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the Middle East, including certain models of the Alphard, Highlander, Highlander hybrid and some Lexus models

The latest recall is due to the possibility that the outer ring of the engine's crankshaft pulley may become misaligned with the inner ring, causing noise or a warning signal to light up, the company's U.S. sales unit said in a press release. If the problem isn't corrected, the belt for the power steering pump may become detached from the pulley, making it suddenly more difficult to turn the steering wheel.

Toyota has received a total of 79 reports about the defect dating back to 2007, according to spokesman Dion Corbett. There have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to the problems.

The company says it will begin mailing out notifications in January, once replacement parts have been produced in sufficient quantities. Owners should then make an appointment with an authorized dealer to have the crankshaft pulley inspected and, if needed, replaced at no charge.

In the meantime, if an abnormal noise is heard coming from the engine compartment, the owner should immediately call a Toyota or Lexus dealer to have it checked out for this condition.

Toyota's reputation has taken a hit over the last two years due to a string of huge recalls that have ballooned to 14 million vehicles over that time, including millions recalled last year for acceleration problems. It faces damage lawsuits and lingering doubts in the U.S. about whether it had been transparent enough about the recall woes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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