Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday recalled 3.8 million pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles for a cruise control switch suspected of causing engine...

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WASHINGTON — Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday recalled 3.8 million pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles for a cruise control switch suspected of causing engine fires. It is the fifth largest auto industry recall in U.S. history.

Ford said the recall of 1994-2002 model-year vehicles includes the company’s hot-selling F-150 pickup truck, Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and Ford Bronco. The company said it would start sending out recall notices to vehicle owners immediately.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the No. 2 U.S.-based automaker have been investigating complaints of engine fires linked to the switch.

Toyota Motor Co., meanwhile, recalled 978,000 sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks amid concerns over the power steering system. The affected vehicles include the 1990-1995 4Runner SUV, 1989-1995 truck 4WD and 1993-1998 T-100 pickup.

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Toyota said a rod linking the steering wheel and the wheels may fracture under conditions where the steering wheel is turned while the vehicle is stopped. Owners will be notified beginning in mid-September, the company said.

In the Ford case, NHTSA has received more than 550 complaints of engine fires from the cruise control switch. There have been allegations of three deaths in cases cited in news reports or lawsuits in Iowa, Georgia and Arkansas.

The affected vehicles include: 1994-2002 model F-150s, 1997-2002 Expeditions, 1998-2002 Navigators and 1994-1996 Broncos equipped with factory-installed speed control.

“We have a solution that fixes the problem and we’re confident that this is going to be the right remedy,” said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley.

Ford said its inquiry found that brake fluid could leak through the cruise control’s deactivation switch into the system’s electrical components, leading to potential corrosion. The corrosion could lead to a buildup of electrical current which could cause overheating and a fire.

Dealers will install a fused wiring harness to act as a circuit breaker in the system. The company said the harness would cut off electrical current to the switch if the current increases.

The concerns over the engine fires led to a recall in January of nearly 800,000 vehicles from the 2000 model year.

The Ford F-series truck has been the best-selling full-size pickup for nearly three decades. In July, when the company offered its employee discount to all buyers, Ford’s F-series set a record for the highest monthly sales of any vehicle since the 1920s with total sales of 126,905 trucks, or an average 4,880 each day for the 26 sales days that month.

The recall, which will cost millions of dollars, comes at a difficult time for Ford. The company’s second-quarter profits were down 19 percent to $900 million, hurt by increasing competition and high labor and health care costs. The automaker plans to lay off at least 2,750 salaried workers in North America by the end of the year.

Toyota’s profits were down 7 percent to $2.4 billion in the April-June period as the company invested heavily in research and global expansion. But the company is generally healthier than its U.S. rivals.

Toyota’s U.S. sales were up 11.4 percent in the first eight months of this year, compared to an average increase of 3.5 percent for the Big Three. Car sales made up most of that increase. Sales of light trucks — including the 4Runner — were up only 2 percent.

Ford shares were up 7 cents to $10.03 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Toyota shares were down 16 cents to $83.69 on the New York Stock Exchange.