NHTSA launches probe of Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Cruze after fire reports
In seven of the eight Wrangler complaints, NHTSA said drivers reported that the fires began while the engine was running.
DETROIT (Reuters) -- U.S. safety regulators have opened two separate investigations into vehicles made by General Motors and Chrysler Group following reports of engine fires that engulfed the vehicles in flames.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week began probing the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact car and 2010 Jeep Wrangler SUVs. NHTSA received two complaints about the 2011 Cruze and eight reports about the 2010 Wrangler.
The fires in the two Cruze models began while the vehicles were on the road. Both cars were destroyed, according to the complaints, which do not identify the drivers.
A driver in a 2011 Cruze Eco said the car started smoking near the engine bay. The first flame appeared soon after the driver stopped the car and within five minutes, the Cruze was "totally engulfed," the complaint said. A warning light on the dashboard illuminated only after the first sign of fire.
GM and Chrysler said they were cooperating with the government and were unaware of any injuries or fatalities stemming from the fires.
"We are conducting our own investigation and will share any findings with the government," GM spokesman Alan Adler said.
"Vehicle fires are very complex and can occur for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the vehicle itself," Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said. "Poor maintenance, improper vehicle use or installation of after-market equipment often are causes of vehicle fires."
In seven of the eight Wrangler complaints, drivers reported that the fires began while the engine was running.
In one case, a driver "saw an unknown liquid burning down to the ground from the engine area," according to the complaint. "I attempted to extinguish the fire with water, but I was unsuccessful. Within minutes, it was a total loss."
Prior Wrangler probes
This is not the first time the Wrangler has been investigated for fire hazards.
NHTSA launched an investigation into the vehicles in August 2009 after reports of at least three Wranglers catching fire.
Chrysler issued a global Wrangler recall in February 2010 "to address a potential for transmission fluid to overheat and expel onto hot surfaces that could pose a fire hazard.
The conditions were linked to extreme and/or abusive driving conditions under rigorous off-road conditions."
In April 2011, China halted Wrangler imports to investigate consumer allegations that Wranglers had caught fire.
Chinese media reports quoted government officials there as saying they had traced the issue back to the Wrangler's "four-speed transmission and related systems."
Chrysler abandoned the four-speed automatic transmission in the Wrangler in 2011 for the 2012 model year, replacing it with the same five-speed automatic transmission that had powered the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Cruze was one of GM's best-selling models last year, with sales of nearly 232,000. The automaker estimates it sold 177,000 model-year 2011 Cruze cars. Chrysler, the No. 3 U.S. automaker, sold a little more than 122,000 Wranglers in 2010.
Larry Vellequette contributed to this reportContact Automotive News