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BMW, Mazda cars probed for power-steering failure

WASHINGTON - Some BMW AG and Mazda Motor Corp. cars are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for possible defects that can cause the power steering to fail, raising the risk of a crash, the agency announced Friday.

Also, Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday that it intends to recall 138,000 Lexus vehicles in the United States from 2008 and earlier to fix faulty engines in the latest quality problem to afflict the world's No. 1 automaker. Toyota had already said it would recall 270,000 Lexus vehicles around the world for the same problem.

Toyota said flaws in engine valve springs could make the vehicle stall while in motion. The recall affects the 2007-2008 GS350 and GS450h; 2008 GS460; 2006-2008 IS350; 2007-2008 LS460 and LS460L; and 2008 LS600hL.

No accidents or injuries have been reported.

The BMW Z4 and Mazda3 have been cited in 140 complaints related to the power-steering flaws, according to the NHTSA website.

The probe may lead to recalls that would cover more than 342,000 vehicles - nearly 48,800 BMWs and 293,800 Mazdas, NHTSA said.

The BMW "steering wheel sticks, binds or locks up, and requires increased steering effort resulting in difficulty controlling the vehicle," the agency said.

For Mazda, the complaints "allege loss of power-steering assist while driving, requiring excessive force on the driver's part to maintain control, or in some cases causing the driver to lose control," NHTSA said.

The safety agency is elevating oversight of defects after record recalls of more than 8 million vehicles by Toyota. The auto industry is on alert after Toyota's recalls for defects linked to unintended acceleration, said Bill Visnic, senior editor at the research firm Edmunds.com.

"Nobody's hanging around waiting on these things," Visnic said. "No one wants to say they let the next unintended acceleration fall through the cracks."

The model year 2007-2009 Mazda3s have had three reported crashes out of 33 complaints, and model year 2003-2005 BMW Z4s have had one crash and 107 complaints, NHTSA said.

The BMW malfunction, reported to occur at 45 mph or greater, may cause drivers to oversteer when turning, the agency said.

- Combined news services

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