DETROIT — Just when Toyota thought its safety problems were over, they flare up again.
Less than a year after it was tarnished by reports of runaway cars, the automaker recalled 1.5 million vehicles Thursday to address brake-fluid and fuel-pump troubles, drawing new attention to safety issues that have festered inside the company for years.
The world's No. 1 carmaker said there were no accidents or injuries connected to the latest recall, which covers some Lexus and Toyota models, including the Georgetown-built Avalon, from the 2004 to 2006 model years, mostly in the United States and Japan.
For Toyota, the latest recalls hurt the company's image just as it tries to clear up old problems, said Jean-Pierre Dube, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago.
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Some previous braking and acceleration problems were blamed on driver error, he noted, but these problems were because of deterioration of parts.
"This is starting to look more like a chronic problem for them," he said. "It's hard to imagine this can't have some effect on how consumers are going to perceive the Toyota brand and to what extent it represents reliability."
Safety experts said it was an example of a new Toyota scrambling to clean up messes from its past. Toyota started getting reports of brake-fluid leaks in some of its models in February 2005, and it took more than five years to issue the recall.
Toyota has now recalled more than 11 million cars and trucks around the world during the past year for problems including faulty gas pedals, floor mats that can trap accelerators, braking problems and stalling engines.
Toyota took a hit on its once-impeccable reputation, not to mention its sales. In response, the company formed a quality task force at its highest levels and has appointed chief quality officers for its various geographies. In North America, that's Steve St. Angelo, who previously was president of the plant in Georgetown. That plant is Toyota's largest in North America.
Spokesman Brian Lyons said the company is reacting far more quickly than it had in the past.
"That is part of our commitment to the federal regulators and our customers," he said. The government said it had received three related complaints since 2004.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hit Toyota with a $16.4 million fine earlier this year for failing to tell the government promptly about defects in its cars.
The new recalls affect 740,000 cars in the United States and 599,000 in Japan. The rest are in Europe and elsewhere around the world.
The U.S. models involved are 2005-2006 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2006 Toyota Highlander (non-hybrid), 2004-2006 Lexus RX330, 2006 Lexus GS300, 2006 Lexus IS250 and 2006 Lexus IS350.
Because of the same brake issue, Honda also said it would recall an undetermined number of vehicles, including the 2005-2007 Acura RL and 2005-2007 Honda Odyssey in the United States.
Most of the vehicles covered by Thursday's recall have a problem with seals in the brake master cylinder, which pushes fluid through tubes to force the brakes to stop the car.
Some drivers or their mechanics have put in the wrong type of brake fluid, causing some of the seals to curl up and allowing a small amount of brake fluid to leak, Toyota said.
If the leaks are left unattended, they can cause a spongy feeling in the brake pedal and eventually brake performance problems, the company said.
The other problem, electrical troubles with the fuel pump that can cause the engine to stall, occurred in Japan and other places but not in North America.
Toyota filed a letter with NHTSA on Thursday saying it started to get complaints about the brake problem in February 2005. The company investigated for the next year and traced the problem to the brake fluid.
Lyons said the correct fluid type is listed in vehicle owner's manuals and is printed on the master cylinder. Toyota began using different seals that were more resistant to the problem in November 2005.
Toyota did not issue the recall earlier, Lyons said, because the problem did not come from Toyota's manufacturing and did not pose what he called an unreasonable safety risk. Brake master cylinders have redundant systems, and one would stop the car even if the seals failed on the other, he said.
The recall was necessary in Japan because of a regulation there that prohibits leaking brake fluid, Lyons said. "To avoid confusion, we made it a global recall," he said.