The 373,000 Avalons being recalled in the U.S. range from the 2000 model year through to 2004 and have improper casting of the steering lock bar — a component for the steering system — causing cracks to develop on the surface.
In some cases, the crack can cause the lock bar to break, potentially leading to a crash if the steering wheel locks, the world's No. 1 automaker by car sales said. No injuries have been reported from the accidents that may be caused by the defect, it said.
Recalled in Japan for a similar problem are 6,750 vehicles, called Pronard, built from February 2000 through January 2004, Toyota and the Japanese transport ministry said. There have been three reported problems linked to the defect but no accidents in Japan, the ministry said.
Also being recalled in the U.S. are 39,000 Lexus luxury model LX 470s for the 2003-2007 model years because of a steering shaft problem, which is different from the Avalon steering problem, according to Toyota.
That problem affects 9,670 vehicles in Japan, two Land Cruiser models, the ministry said. One problem has been reported but no accidents are suspected of being linked to the defect, it said.
The latest recall comes on top of some 8.5 million vehicles that have been recalled around the world by Toyota Motor Corp. since October for a spate of problems, including faulty floor mats, defective gas pedals and braking software glitches.
The recall crisis has damaged Toyota's reputation for quality and customer service.
Toyota executives have repeatedly vowed to put customers first. But it has been criticized as lagging in its response to quality lapses, and was slapped with a record $16.4 million fine in the United States for responding too slowly when the recall crisis erupted.
Earlier this month, Toyota announced a recall of some 270,000 vehicles, mostly Lexus cars, for engine problems, dealing a further blow to its image because Lexus is its top-end luxury brand.
Toyota faces more than 200 lawsuits in the U.S. tied to accidents involving defective automobiles, the lower resale value of Toyota vehicles, and a drop in its stock value.
"Toyota is continuing to work diligently to address safety issues wherever they arise and to strengthen our global quality assurance operations so that Toyota owners can be confident in the safety of their vehicles," said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota chief quality officer for North America.
Owners of Avalon and Lexus cars are being notified next month, being asked to bring in their cars to nearby Toyota and Lexus dealers for a free fix, according to Toyota.
"Our engineers have thoroughly investigated this issue and have identified a robust and durable remedy that will help prevent this condition from affecting drivers in the future," said Mark Templin, group vice president and general manager of Lexus.