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To add to the very long list of recent Toyota recalls, the company is now recalling 670,000 of its older-model Prius hybrids sold in the United States, for potential defects in the steering mechanism. 350,000 of these same Priuses are also being recalled for faulty water pumps that could cause the cars to stall. So far, no injuries have been reported as a result of the defects.

All second-generation Priuses are affected by the recall, which includes all Priuses built from August 2003 to March 30, 2009. According to Toyota, third-generation Priuses are not affected.

The steering problem "is a design-related issue — insufficient hardness on the specification," says Brian Lyons, Toyota's spokesman for safety issues in the U.S.

Splines, or ridges, on the insufficiently hard steering shafts can wear and deform, causing noisy steering and in extreme situations — such as holding the steering wheel completely to the right or left, as in a tight parking spot — the car can feel as if it has lost steering, Lyons says. But the shaft doesn't break, and the steering continues to work despite the defect, he says –USAToday

Lest we forget, Toyota recalled 7.4 million cars just a month ago for power window switches that could accidentally catch fire if lubricated incorrectly.

And beginning 2009, Toyota recalled 12.4 million cars around the world for sticking accelerators that had resulted in several fatal crashes. There have also been recalls for faulty brakes on millions of Priuses, and numerous recalls ostensibly related to floor mats that Toyota just doesn't seem to be able to design in a way to keep them from getting caught on the accelerator.

If recalls were Toyota’s only problem, that would be one thing. But as we wrote about in 2010, Toyota knew about the Prius braking issues that led to a 2010 recall as early as summer 2009—months before it publically acknowledged and attempted to fix these issues.

The steering parts all were made prior to when Toyota's top executive, Akio Toyoda — testifying before the U.S. Congress in February 2010 during the unintended-acceleration recalls — said that the automaker had lost its way and let quality slip as it tried to get too big too fast. The company would re-establish safety as a higher priority than sales, Toyoda said then.

Let’s hope for all our sakes that Toyota has indeed re-established safety as its highest priority–but Toyota owners, please remain vigilant! If you ever experience any adverse event such as unintended acceleration or loss of braking or steering, please report any and all incidents to the NHTSA immediately.

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