U.S. investigates steering problems in 135,000 older Toyota SUVs

Visitors walk past a logo of Toyota Motor Corp on a Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle at the company's showroom in Tokyo August 5, 2014.  REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Steering and braking problems linked to two crashes and five injuries in 135,000 Toyota sport utility vehicles have prompted the opening of a federal investigation, a U.S. auto safety regulator said on Friday.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it has 135 complaints from 2001-2002 model year Toyota Sequoia SUV owners alleging incidents of unexpected vehicle stability control activations resulting in automatic braking of the left or right wheel and unexpected steering pull.

A preliminary probe is the first step before NHTSA decides whether to demand a recall. Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said the company is cooperating with NHTSA.

Around half of the complaints said a faulty sensor was diagnosed as the cause of the problem, while other complaints report similar symptoms and driving conditions, NHTSA said.

Most of the complaints reported an unexpected activation at highway speeds. Some reported the incident as feeling like a “jerk” to the steering wheel.

In 2010, Toyota recalled 50,000 2003 Sequoia SUVs because the vehicle stability control system could activate at low speed for a few seconds during acceleration NHTSA had launched an investigation in 2008 into the issue and upgraded it in 2009. Toyota insisted at the time the issue wasn’t a safety issue but agreed to recall the vehicles anyway.