* 2001-2003 RAV4 models may experience uneven shifting
* 2009-2010 Matrix, Corolla models may have steering issue
* Technical service bulletin issued for Matrix, Corolla
* Matrix, Corolla, and RAV4 issues did not lead to recalls (Recasts to include technical service campaign for 500,000 Matrix and Corolla issues; adds Toyota confirmation, comment)
By Bernie Woodall and Soyoung Kim
DETROIT, July 14 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T said on Wednesday it will extend warranties on about 235,500 RAV4 vehicles and address steering complaints on as many as 500,000 late model Matrix and Corollas in the United States.
Toyota is taking the action to repair vehicles outside the channel for recalls tracked by U.S. regulators because it does not consider the reported problems to be safety issues.
Drivers of 2001 to 2003 model year RAV4s equipped with automatic transaxles may experience a “harsh shift” or have a dashboard light turn on indicating a malfunction, Toyota said in a notice to U.S. dealers.
Meanwhile, drivers of about a half million U.S. Matrix and Corolla vehicles from model years 2009 and 2010 may experience steering drift, the company said.
U.S. Toyota dealers will fix the steering for owners who complain, said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons. He said the matter was not a safety issue but one of customer satisfaction.
In February, when the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had opened a preliminary investigation into complaints over steering issues on the Corolla and Matrix.
At the time, NHTSA had received 168 consumer complaints about the steering issue linked to eight crashes and 11 injuries.
Toyota has said Corollas made in Japan and Europe had different parts for steering than the affected models sold in North America.
Lyons did not provide an estimate of how much the repairs would cost Toyota.
The automaker estimated that fixing the steering would take about four hours representing a labor bill of about $350 per fix based on average dealer costs.
RAV4 SHIFTING ISSUES
Meanwhile, owners of RAV4s covered by the extended warranty will be sent a letter this month advising them to bring their vehicle to a dealer to be examined if they have experienced a problem with shifting.
Toyota will pay for repairs and extend warranties of the affected RAV4s, the note sent to dealers said.
The notice of the vehicle repair campaign was sent to Toyota’s U.S. dealers on Monday. A copy of the Toyota “Customer Support Program” was obtained by Reuters.
Major automakers often extend warranty terms or notify dealers that they will pay for repairs that they judge to be unrelated to the kinds of safety issues covered by recalls.
Toyota’s RAV4 warranty campaign comes after a series of high-profile recalls that have damaged the automaker’s reputation for quality. More than 10 million Toyota and Lexus models have been recalled since last fall worldwide.
Toyota said that solder in one of the circuits on the RAV4’s engine control module is at risk for peeling over time.
In most cases, dealers would be able to fix any vehicle problems by replacing the engine control module, an onboard computer, Toyota said.
In some cases, dealers will also have to replace the automatic transaxle on affected RAV4s, Toyota said.
Hundreds of U.S. consumer complaints have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about transmission-related problems with the RAV4.
In some cases, drivers have complained of repair bills of several thousand dollars or sluggish acceleration that put them in dangerous situations.
One driver of a 2002 RAV4 told U.S. regulators that in March 2007 he was involved in a minor accident after the “automatic transmission went crazy and (the) car started lunging forward and then not going when it should.”
“We have not felt safe enough to even keep the car on the road,” the consumer told NHTSA.
No other Toyota, Lexus or Scion models are impacted by the issue, Toyota said in its notice to dealers.
RAV4 owners who have already paid for repairs can apply to be reimbursed, Toyota said. New repairs must be made at Toyota dealerships. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall and Soyoung Kim; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz and Richard Chang)