Recalls could cost Japanese motoring giant £1.3bn worldwide

Toyota drivers will have to wait up to a month for repairs to flawed accelerator pedals that could lead to cars running out of control, the world's biggest car maker said yesterday.

It advised 180,865 UK owners they should stop driving their car immediately if they noticed the pedal was becoming stiff – a sign that the fault was developing.

So far 27 owners in Europe, including the UK, have reported experiencing the faulty accelerator, the Japanese company said yesterday, as it came under attack for its safety record. It first heard about the problem in the US in October and the UK in November, but needed time to check whether it was a common problem before issuing the mass recall, it said.

Toyota insisted there was no sign British cars had developed a separate fault leading to a loss of braking on its electric-petrol hybrid 2010 Prius, which has led to 124 complaints in the US, four of which involved crashes. The US Transportation Department is investigating that problem.

The manufacturer announced a recall in Europe of 1.8 million cars of seven models – Corolla, Verso, Auris, Yaris, Avensis, AYGO and iQ – at the weekend, nine days after recalling 2.3 million cars in the US for the same reason. A further 6,667 British Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 models are being recalled by their French makers because they are fitted with the same pedal.

The Japanese firm admitted the recalls, which could cost it $2bn (£1.3bn) worldwide, would damage its reputation for reliability. In November last year, it was forced to recall 4.2 million cars in the US because the driver's rubber mat had been interfering with the accelerator. Yesterday, in a further dose of unwelcome publicity, news media broadcast an emergency call made by a driver who died with his wife, daughter and brother-in-law in California in August last year when their Toyota Lexus allegedly accelerated out of control. Chris Lastrella was heard saying: "Our accelerator is stuck... there's no brakes... we're approaching the intersection... hold on and pray... pray."

The latest recalls were not linked to that problem, said Toyota, but the US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood accused the company of not dealing with the latest safety concerns quickly enough. "Maybe they were a little safety deaf," he said. Several new class-action lawsuits were filed against Toyota across the US yesterday to add to the dozens filed on Tuesday. Attorneys in Colorado are seeking monetary recovery for all Colorado residents with the affected cars.

The details of the British owners affected by the recall are expected to be passed to the company by the DVLA today, and Toyota will write to them in batches offering dates for the accelerator fault to be fixed at its 180 dealerships around the country.

Vehicle parts required to deal with the mass recall are expected to arrive at Toyota centres by next Wednesday. In the meantime Toyota technicians are receiving specific training to deal with the problem. The fix is estimated to take 30 minutes, and involves placing a stainless steel plate beneath the accelerator. The company aims to complete the recall within eight weeks.

Toyota spokesman Richard Seymour advised drivers: "If the pedal feels normal, there is no reason you can't drive your car. But if you do feel something amiss with the throttle pedal, it's better for you to contact your local Toyota Centre and they will look at the vehicle."

Last night the Association of British Insurance confirmed that motor insurance covering Toyota owners was still valid. Spokesman Malcom Tarling said: “Motor policies will continue to cover Toyota owners affected by the recall of certain models. Any claims will be dealt with in the normal way.”

Toyota is Britain's fourth biggest carmaker, behind Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. Steve Fowler, editor of What Car, said the recall would do "massive damage" to the firm's reputation. "I think there's going to be a lot of customers who are reasonably impressed with the way the company deals with them, because the dealerships are known for good service, but a lot of people are going to be worried and perhaps more importantly, a lot of new customers are going to be put off."

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