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Toyota, Honda beset by recalls in 2012

A 2004 Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling about 140,000 Tacoma pickup trucks from the model years 2001 to 2004, the latest in a string of recalls this

Japan’s two largest automakers appear to be locked in a race to achieve the dubious distinction of having recalled more vehicles than any other automaker during 2012 for an array of safety-related problems that range from fire hazards to seat belt issues.

The latest problem involves 140,000 Toyota Tacoma pickups which, the maker says, could experience corrosion severe enough that their space tires could fall off while driving.  Toyota has recalled several other models, including its Sienna minivan, for similar problems in the past.

The announcement comes barely a month after Toyota revealed it would have to recall 7.5 million vehicles worldwide due to faulty power window switches that could catch fire, including 2.5 million vehicles sold in the U.S.  It was the largest single recall in the maker’s history.  That followed by days Honda’s announcement of three separate safety callbacks impacting 1.7 million vehicles.

The two automakers have collectively led the list of recalled vehicles for the past three years, Toyota in 2009 and 2010 largely due to its massive problems with so-called unintended acceleration, and Honda in 2011 in the wake of an assortment of problems including defective airbags.

So far this year, sales numbers suggest that despite such problems, neither maker appears to be losing much momentum in the U.S. market. Quite the contrary. Toyota and Honda have experienced some of their biggest sales gains in years – though at least some of those year-over-year increases were the result of last year’s devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami which left both manufacturers struggling with product shortages. Many potential customers appeared to wait until this year, as supplies came back to normal.

Analyst Rebecca Lindland, of IHS Automotive does not expect Toyota’s recent safety problems to drive away loyal buyers, though she has warned that, “for those people on the fence about buying a Toyota, this will have an impact.  It could be more difficult getting new buyers into the showroom.”

Working in their favor, however, the two makers have continued scoring well in a variety of recent quality and reliability studies.  The three Toyota brands sold in the U.S., Lexus, Scion and Toyota, topped the chart in the recent Consumer Reports Automotive Reliability Study, for example. But a senior automotive tester for the non-profit magazine also noted that it does not take recalls into consideration when determining the reliability of individual brands.

Who will have the most vehicles recalled this year remains to be seen. Toyota seemed on track to nab that doubtful honor again in 2011 – until Honda announced a massive service action in the final days of the year.

Honda, in fact, is now facing several safety probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration affecting nearly 700,000 of its Odyssey minivans and Pilot SUVs. It is far from certain that those actions will result in recalls, however, and even if they did, whether any announcement would come in 2012.

Meanwhile, the two Japanese makers are by no means the only ones who have had safety-related problems in recent months.

Chrysler’s Jeep brand recalled 919,000 of its Liberty and Grand Cherokee SUVs this month due to an airbag problem.  And Ford faced an airbag problem of its own, last month, with the Fiesta subcompact. The bigger of the two U.S. makers has, meanwhile, experienced a string of recalls involving its popular Escape SUV – both older versions as well as the new one launched this year.

Analysts say Ford’s bigger problem has been a general stumble in quality charts including the Consumer Reports reliability study and the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey.

The latest Toyota recall impacts Tacoma pickups sold between 2001 and 2004 in 20 cold weather states, as well as the District of Columbia. The spare tire is stored under the cargo bed in those vehicles, where the plate that holds it in place can be corroded by contact with road salt. The maker plans to make repairs at no charge to consumers.

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