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Toyota broadens engine fix for 3.3 million vehicles

DETROIT, April 3 Reuters reported that Toyota Motor Corp. said on Wednesday it was broadening a warranty for potential damage from oil gelling in engines on 3.3 million vehicles, aiming to mollify customers upset with the automaker renowned for quality.

Toyota maintained the problem was caused by customers neglecting to change their oil on the factory's recommended schedule, but also said it was making a design change in some engines to make them more resistant to the problem.

The world's third-largest automaker said it would cover repair and incidental costs, such as towing and car rental, from engine damage caused by oil gelling in 1997 to 2002 Toyota and Lexus models with 3-liter V6 and 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engines. That includes some of the automaker's most popular vehicles, including the Camry sedan and RX300 sport utility vehicle.

Toyota extended the offer to cover eight years from the date of purchase with no limit on miles driven, instead of its usual five-year/60,000 mile (96,560 km) warranty on Toyota models or six-year/70,000 mile (1,125 km) warranty for Lexus models.

Oil gelling occurs when oil becomes contaminated, thickens and no longer lubricates the engine, and can lead to engine failure.

Toyota and its Lexus brand often top surveys of quality among automakers, and a bulletproof reputation has helped the Japanese giant capture more than 10 percent of the U.S. market.

But some 3,000 customers had complained to Toyota about the oil gelling problem. Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said only a "few hundred" cases had been reimbursed after the company sent out its original offer in February.

"What we're finding is we have a million letters out and actual reimbursements are fewer than we expected," he said. "It's relatively inexpensive to ensure customer satisfaction on the problem."

Toyota's new program still admonishes owners to maintain a regular oil change schedule. The original program asked customers to show proof of regular oil changes, but Michels said the company would take the owners' word about it.

Michels also said the company was making a "minor change" to the design of the V6 engine to improve crankcase cooling. Some experts had speculated that Toyota had made the engines run too hot to lower emissions, speeding up the decay of the oil, but Michels said the change was an extra margin against infrequent oil changes.

"In any engine not maintained with any reasonable frequency the oil will start to break down," he said. "This will enhance the engine's ability to resist this and slow the process somewhat."