The world's biggest automaker has received 12 complaints about the problem within Japan, but knows of no accidents that it has caused worldwide, according to spokesman Paul Nolasco.
After being hit with a record $16.4 million fine in the U.S. and facing strong government criticism both at home and abroad for slow responses to safety problems, Toyota Motor Corp. is working to react more quickly. The company on Tuesday paid the fine in the U.S., where it still faces hundreds of state and federal lawsuits.
The latest issue affects Toyota's luxury Lexus "LS" line, and involves a computerized system that oversees how the steering wheel controls the tires. The Lexus line is Toyota's top-priced luxury sedan brand, and includes the "LS 600h" hybrid.
In addition to the 4,500 cars sold in Japan, about 7,000 have been sold abroad, including about 3,800 in the U.S., 150 in Europe and 800 in China, with others sold in areas such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australia.
The steering system comes as standard in Japanese models, but is optional in some other regions. It varies the amount that the steering wheel turns the tires on a car , allowing drivers to turn the wheel less at low speeds when attempting to navigate or park in tight spots and providing finer control at high speeds.
The system can take "a few seconds" to return the steering to normal after it has been adjusted, which led to complaints from drivers, Nolasco said.
He said Toyota was preparing to conduct a recall in Japan soon, but wasn't sure of the exact timing.
The company is looking to demonstrate it can respond rapidly to problems in its cars. Toyota is currently facing a new investigation by authorities in the U.S. because it waited a year to recall vehicles there after a similar recall in Japan, despite dozens of reports of problems from American drivers.
Toyota quickly recalled about 10,000 Lexus SUVs in April in the U.S. after Consumer Reports magazine put a "Don't Buy" recommendation on them for failing an emergency handling test. The magazine lifted the warning after the recall, which applied to about 34,000 vehicles worldwide.
Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for safety defects affecting some of its best-selling models. The U.S. Transportation Department is reviewing thousands of Toyota documents and could issue new penalties for the company's handling of other safety recalls.
The recalls have prompted the first major review of U.S. auto safety laws in Congress since tire recalls by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. in 2000.