Toyota to fix more Tundras for rust problems

DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota said on Tuesday it would fix all Tundra pickups sold in the United States for the 2000 to 2003 model years to address a risk that part of the truck’s frame could corrode, causing spare tires or even the gas tank to drop to the road.

A Toyota Tundra is seen on the floor of the Chicago Auto Show in this February 9, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/John Gress

In November, Toyota Motor Corp had recalled 110,000 Tundras sold in 20 cold-weather states, saying exposure to heavy road salt could cause the corrosion. Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons was unable to say how many additional vehicles would be covered by the additional repairs.

The repair campaign comes at a time when the world’s top automaker is trying to recover from a damaging series of recalls that have tarnished its reputation and cut into its sales and financial results.

Toyota told its U.S. dealers in a notice on Tuesday that it would expand the recall for Tundras by launching a repair campaign to cover trucks sold in the other 30 U.S. states where there is less risk of corrosion from winter road salt.

The Tundra rust problem is separate from reported problems with unintended acceleration that represent the core of Toyota’s safety crisis, but fixing affected vehicles could be far more costly per repair than in previous recalls.

In some cases, fixing a Tundra with serious rust problems could involve more than seven hours of work by a technician and would involve replacing part of the vehicles frame, replacing fuel tank straps and the spare tire carrier, Toyota said.

By contrast, Toyota’s fix for sticky accelerator pedals involved less than an hour of work for a repair technician at one of its dealerships.

In another setback for Toyota, U.S. safety regulators and the automaker dispatched investigators to San Diego on Tuesday to inspect a Prius that sped out of control on a California freeway a day earlier.

Reuters reviewed a copy of the Tundra repair notice, which Lyons confirmed had been sent to the company’s U.S. dealers.

Toyota said the rear cross-member of the frame of the Tundra could corrode in some cases. That could cause loss of rear brake circuits, making it harder for drivers to stop, it said.

In “the worst case,” the fuel tank may drop to the ground and could be separated from the vehicle, potentially causing a crash or fire, the company said in its notice to dealers.

Unlike the earlier recall, Toyota termed the notice sent on Tuesday a “special service campaign.”

Major automakers sometimes offer to make such repairs outside the formalized system for vehicle recalls administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in cases where safety is not judged to be at risk.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for mechanical problems with its accelerator assembly that can cause sticking and for the risk that floormats could trap an accelerator.

In February, Toyota also recalled nearly 500,000 hybrids, including its top-selling Prius, because of braking problems.

The Tundra, which Toyota redesigned in 2007, represents the Japanese automaker’s attempt to crack a market for full-size work trucks that has been dominated by Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Chrysler.

Toyota indicated it would also pay car rental fees for up to 60 days for Tundra drivers in cases where repairs are not possible because of a lack of parts.

The automaker said it would tell all drivers of affected Tundras where repairs were successful that they would have to bring the trucks back a second time once Toyota had completed work to develop a rust-resistant compound that could be sprayed around the area.

In some cases, Toyota told dealers, the rust problem might be so widespread that vehicles could not be repaired.

Toyota shares opened 0.6 percent lower in Tokyo trade, cutting into a bounce that had lifted the stock by almost 10 percent from its early February low.

Reporting by Soyoung Kim; Editing by Gary Hill