Is the steering shaft a known issue? Yes.
Will the recall fix it? Maybe.
In November 2012, Toyota announced a Safety Recall of the “Steering Intermediate Extension Shaft” on 04-09 Prius. Another supplier problem, this time regarding metal of “insufficient hardness”. The steering column is a series of metal parts, slipped together over splines; the splines can wear out, resulting in loss of steering control. Click here for a video clip of the problem (also embedded below).
Though the explanation is nearly identical, the latest recall (C0T) is different from the one for 04-06 Prius (60C) that started in June of 2006, involving the upper linkage of the steering column (top of picture, above).
This time around, the “remedy” is a bit complicated; the suspected part must be inspected by the dealer and, based on the results, may be replaced. Exact language from first page of the Letter to Dealers:
The “inspection results” are not whether the part is worn or damaged.
Replacement depends on whether the bolt hole has a “countersink”, according to the Technical Instructions issued to dealers, T-CP-C0T-A510-D. Explanation of the countersink on page 6:
If the shaft is flush, then just the bolt is replaced. If the shaft has a countersink, then the shaft and three bolts are replaced. The replacement shaft also has a countersink; it’s the metal they’re after, not the design.
FROM EARTHLING AUTOMOTIVE’S POINT OF VIEW:
Earthling Automotive has seen these shafts strip on several vehicles, countersink or no. We keep replacements in stock (part number 45221-47041; countersink shafts are 04001-41212). This problem is far, far less common than the inverter water pump or the combination meter. To my knowledge we’ve only seen wholly stripped spines (the all-out failure scenario) on commercial vehicles (taxis, and most recently a car used for Lyft); we’ve repaired many that were noisy (developing looseness in the column) before the part actually failed (also taxis). I can only think of one private owner who had a suspicious noise, and when we removed the rack to check the shaft, it was tight. The problem turned out to be in the u-joint.
On all problem cars, the bolt on the shaft has been tight. I’m not sure what replacing bolts is about.
For folks deciding how to react, this information is key: unlike the inverter water pump or the combination meter, your steering is NOT going to suddenly fail. You will feel and/or hear something well in advance, and with increasing suspicion. Further, while the dealer may replace the shaft if it happens to qualify, you have a 50% chance that it will not qualify (page 2 of Technical Instructions). (It’s my opinion that the recall will ultimately expand to replacing all units, regardless of design, at which point it makes more sense.)
Not to discourage you from taking your car in. Just don’t panic.
The Lyft car (pic right, vids below) was towed to a local dealer first, and was declined repair under the recall. At first this did not make sense to me, until I read the details regarding the difference in the shafts.
(This one happened to be flush.) According to Toyota’s website, the recall has not been performed on that car (you can check your own VIN here), so perhaps they didn’t even look.
It’s not clear what Toyota will do with an actual problem, if the part doesn’t qualify or they deem the vehicle a nuisance.
This car was a salvage title, and many taxis are salvage. (All cars, salvage or no, qualify for recalls.) As the dealer claimed, perhaps something was reassembled wrong, which caused the problem (not weak metal). (The dealer also diagnosed the steering rack broken.)
Upshot: stay tuned for the next episode. For customers concerned about this problem, Earthling Automotive checks steering as part of regular service; if you prefer to come in sooner, just let us know. It only takes a minute and would be free of charge (just like floor mats).
If you do need a replacement shaft, the part runs $125-$177, depending on the design (countersink or flush). We charge $270 labor round trip to remove and replace the rack, and center the steering wheel as needed. Total with tax $406-$462.
Videos and pics below. Facebook album also available here…
Recent Intermediate Shaft Failure, Parts I-III:
View of stripped splines:
View of splines on new shaft:
View of input shaft to the steering rack, splines OK:
View of steering rack and column linkage, outside vehicle (for reference):
View of linkage under the dash:
Don’t wait for steering problems to worsen. At Earthling Automotive, we’re here to inspect and address any concerns with your steering shaft. Your safety is our top priority. Act now to schedule your complimentary steering check during your regular service. Drive with confidence. Contact us online or call us at (415) 875-9030 today!