WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on May 10 opened an investigation into whether, in 2005, Toyota Motor Corp. notified the agency of a steering relay rod safety defect within five business days of learning of the defect, as is required by law.

In response to new investigation, Toyota issued the following statement: "Toyota has received and is reviewing the information request from NHTSA and will cooperate with the agency's investigation."

In 2004, Toyota conducted a recall in Japan for Hilux trucks with steering relay rods prone to fatiguing, cracking and possibly breaking, causing the vehicle to lose steering control. At that time, according to the NHTSA, Toyota informed the agency that the safety defect was isolated to vehicles in Japan and that the company had not received similar field information within the United States.

But in 2005, Toyota informed NHTSA that the steering relay rod defect was present in several models sold in the U.S. and conducted a recall.

NHTSA said in a released statement that last week, the agency was "alerted to a number of complaints filed with Toyota by U.S. consumers prior to the 2004 Hilux recall in Japan. As a result, NHTSA has decided to open an investigation into whether Toyota met its legal obligation to conduct a timely recall of vehicles with the defect in the United States."

"Our team is now working to obtain documents and information from Toyota to find out whether the manufacturer notified NHTSA within five business days of discovering a safety defect in U.S. vehicles," said NHTSA Administrator David Stickland.