DETROIT — The largest recall in Toyota's 75-year history could undermine the carmaker's comeback from natural disasters and embarrassing safety problems.
Toyota on Wednesday recalled 7.43 million cars, trucks and SUVs worldwide to fix faulty power window switches that can cause fires. The recall affects more than a dozen models produced from 2005 through 2010 around the world including the Camry, the top-selling car in the United States. It's bigger than the 7 million vehicles recalled two years ago for floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration.
The problem centers on the power window switch, which is inside the driver's door. Toyota said grease wasn't applied evenly to the switch during production, causing friction and sometimes smoke and fire.
The flaw raises questions about whether Toyota has solved quality and safety issues that embarrassed the company in 2009 and 2010. It also could jeopardize Toyota's impressive rebound from last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Those disasters hobbled factories and left dealers short of models to sell.
The Toyota recall "takes some of the sheen off its recovering brand image and should have a financial impact," Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy wrote in a note to investors.
Toyota said initially that the window switch problem hasn't caused any crashes or injuries. But documents filed by U.S. safety regulators show customers have reported 161 fires and nine injuries. No deaths have occurred.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began looking into window switch problems with two Toyota models in February after noticing a higher than normal number of complaints. Most fires caused by the window switch were minor, although a Camry was destroyed in one case. Several owners reported that they were afraid to drive their vehicles because of the threat of fires.
Toyota dealers will inspect the switches and apply a special grease to them, company spokesman John Hanson said. In some cases, the switches and circuit boards could be replaced, Hanson said. Some repair shops might have used off-the-shelf greases to fix the problem, but those eventually will make it worse, he said.
The recall includes 2.5 million vehicles in the United States, where it covers about half the models sold under the Toyota and Scion brands.
The recall covers only the master power window switch on the driver's side, which controls all four windows. Switches inside the other doors are different, Toyota said.