MINIVAN doors nearly come off in government tests

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ DaimlerChrysler AG announced Thursday that it will put new door locks on 136,500 minivans after the sliding door nearly came off in government crash tests.

Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they have never seen a sliding door unlatch, slide open and nearly come off, as it did in three recent side impact tests on the 2001 DaimlerChrysler models.

The Chrysler Town and Country, Chrysler Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Dodge Grand Caravan got high marks for protecting the driver and rear seat passenger against life threatening chest injuries.

But the test dummies wear seat belts during the tests and NHTSA officials were concerned the door could come off in a highway crash and an unbelted passenger could be thrown from the vehicle.

After sharing the results with DaimlerChrysler, the German automaker agreed to redesign the latch on models still being produced and replace the lock system on those already sold. DaimlerChrysler will send letters to vehicle owners in about a week and offer the repairs for free at its dealerships.

DaimlerChrysler spokesman Dominick Infante said the problem affects about a third of the 2001 fleet. The other two-thirds have remote keyless entry and a different latch system that is not at risk of being triggered in a crash, he said.

Side impact crashes are the second-leading cause of death and injury to passenger car occupants. NHTSA tests many of the most popular vehicles to determine how they protect occupants in a side impact crash by running a barrier into the side at 38.5 miles per hour.

They also run the vehicles into a barrier at 35 miles per hour to test their protection in frontal crashes.

All four DaimlerChrysler van models got four of five stars for protecting the front driver and passenger and five stars for protection of the rear drivers side passenger.

The Voyager and Caravan got four stars for protection of the driver in side impact crashes, while the Town and Country and Grand Caravan got five stars.