A U.S. grand jury has ordered Toyota Motor Corp to turn over documents related to problems with rods that connect vehicle steering systems to their front wheels, the company said on Tuesday.


A Toyota logo is seen reflected on a Prius at the Chicago Auto Show February 10, 2010.John Gress/Reuters

The subpoena was at least the third Toyota has received this year, potentially deepening the automaker's legal issues following its recall of more than 10 million vehicles since last September.

The embarrassing recalls by Toyota, once considered a benchmark for high vehicle quality, mainly concern unintended acceleration, including pedals that stick or become caught under floor mats.

Toyota said in a statement that it was complying with the subpoena. The company did not identify the models and model years covered by the latest subpoena, which a Toyota spokeswoman said was received by a U.S. unit from a federal grand jury in Manhattan on June 29.

A spokeswoman for the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment on Tuesday.

A federal grand jury in the same prosecutorial district subpoenaed Toyota in February as the automaker tackled a crisis over how it handled problems that caused unintended acceleration in vehicles. The following month, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox subpoenaed the company seeking information on the recalls.

A grand jury probe raises the possibility of criminal charges, on top of dozens of civil lawsuits that could cost Toyota billions of dollars in damages.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office has one of the highest profiles in the United States, with jurisdiction over some of Wall Street's largest publicly traded companies. Toyota has shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe into the timing of a September 2005 Toyota recall for a steering relay rod problem. It questions whether Toyota notified the agency of a defect within five business days, as required by U.S. law.

Toyota recalled Hilux trucks with defective steering relay rods in 2004 in Japan, but at the time told U.S. regulators the defect was isolated to vehicles in Japan, NHTSA said.

The automaker later admitted the problem affected vehicles sold in the United States. Its 2005 U.S. recall covered about 978,000 vehicles, including the 4Runner sport utility vehicle and pickup trucks from the 1989-1996 model years.

The U.S. government ordered Toyota in April to pay a $16.4 million fine for delaying a January recall over accelerator pedals that did not spring back as designed.

Toyota shares closed Tuesday down 2.6 percent in Tokyo. The benchmark Nikkei average fell 1.2 percent. Toyota shares on the NYSE were down 1.9 percent in late Tuesday morning trade.

(Reporting by Sachi Izumi and Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Tim Dobbyn)