The Associated Press is reporting that three Toyota officials are under criminal investigation for allegedly avoiding a recall for eight years, during which time the defective part in question may have caused an accident.

The story goes like this. On August 12, 2004, five people were injured in a head-on crash in Japan that was caused when the steering of a 1993 Toyota Hilux Surf failed. Toyota then carried out a small recall in October of 2004 for 330,000 Hilux Surf SUVs built between 1988 and 1996 for a part used in the steering system that could fail. The Hilux Surf that caused the accident was built in 1993.

The investigation seems to revolve around the fact that Toyota officials had already accumulated five reports of steering problems way back in 1996, but didn't recall any vehicles because problems were "limited to repeatedly turning the wheel during parking." After the accident and additional problems were reported in 2004, Toyota decided to do a major recall of 1.2 million potentially affected vehicles sold in 180 nations. Only that one accident has ever been attributed to the problematic steering part.

The three officials, of which only two are still working for the company, oversaw quality control at Toyota during the period under investigation. The formal charges against these officials were filed today with prosecutors in southern Japan.

This type of publicity is the last thing Toyota needs as questions about the company's ability to maintain its impeccable quality standards amidst rapid growth are being asked as the number of recalls it has risen dramatically in recent years.

(Thanks Don L. for the tip)

[Source: Associated Press via MLive]