Feds upgrade investigation into door fires in GM vehicles

Wednesday, July 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government is upgrading its investigation of more than a half-million General Motors Corp. trucks and sport utility vehicles after 32 people reported fires in the driver's door.

The fires started near the power mirror switch in 1998 models of C/K trucks and the Chevrolet Suburban. GM also has received 39 warranty claims related to the problem.

No crashes or injuries related to the problem were reported.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also upgraded its investigation of windshield wipers on 6.7 million GM trucks and vans.

GM recalled more than 1.5 million Chevrolet and GMC vehicles four years ago to repair a faulty windshield wiper motor. Since then, about 5,000 owners of vans and pickups not included in the recall have reported the wipers only work occasionally or fail completely, and NHTSA is investigating whether more 1994-1998 vehicles should be recalled.

Twenty crashes, including one that led to an injury, have been blamed on the problem.

The 1998 recall included a limited portion of trucks and SUVS from the 1995-1996 model years, including some Chevrolet C-10s, S-10s, Blazers, Suburbans and Tahoes and some GMC Sierras, Yukons, Jimmys and Sonomas.

General Motors would not comment on the investigations, other than to say they are cooperating with NHTSA. According to NHTSA's report on the wiper investigation, GM told investigators that even though the wipers may fail more often than on other vehicles, it is not a safety problem.

The agency disagreed, saying wipers are critical to safe driving and that more serious crashes are likely in the future.

NHTSA also has opened an investigation into 812,568 Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 1996-1998 model years. Eight people have complained that the hood latches failed, causing the hood to open without warning while the vehicle is in motion. No injuries or crashes have been reported.

NHTSA opens any investigation with a preliminary analysis where the agency and the manufacturer exchange paperwork. The investigation can be upgraded to an engineering analysis where government experts examine parts for a possible defect. That is the stage of the GM investigations.

An investigation can lead to a recall, but many are dropped.