WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have upgraded their investigation into possibly oversensitive airbags in some Subaru models and of allegedly faulty seat belt anchorages in 1991-93 Chrysler Corp. minivans.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in its monthly report of defect investigations, also said it has begun an investigation into complaints that hot particles emitted by deploying airbags have set some motorists' clothes on fire.
The complaints involve some 1995 Toyota Corollas and a 1995 Hyundai Accent.
The probe of oversensitive airbags in Subarus affects late-1994 and early-1995 Imprezas plus all 1995 and early-1996 Legacy models. Nearly 100,000 of the cars are on the road, NHTSA said.
The agency and the manufacturer have received 29 complaints, most of which stemmed from airbag deployment after the cars had gone over a curb, bump or pothole. Fifteen mostly minor injuries were related to the incidents.
NHTSA upgraded the case from what it calls a preliminary evaluation to the more intense level of engineering analysis.
In the case of the Chrysler minivan seat belts, more than 170 complaints have been collected by NHTSA and the manufacturer about the anchorage for the right side of the middle seat. Unexpected release of belts has caused five injuries, NHTSA said. About 1.1 million vehicles are equipped with the anchorage.
NHTSA also said it upgraded its examinations of reported steering failures in 1995 Dodge and Plymouth Neons and in 1996 General Motors C and K series vehicles, including pickups, sport-utilities and other cab-chassis combinations.
NHTSA had investigated similar complaints about 1995 GM trucks but found no defect trend. It said it was opening a new probe of 1996 models because of persistent complaints about steering shaft separations.
It said there have been 14 complaints, including two crashes with two injuries. More than 825,000 of the 1996 trucks are on the road.
The upgraded probe of Neon steering failures stemmed from 30 reported complaints, including 16 crashes with 13 injuries. About 375,000 of the cars are on the road, the agency said.
Another upgraded case involves more than 1.1 million Toyota vehicles produced between 1987 and 1991. It is based on 106 complaints of leaking fuel tanks and includes 1987-91 Camrys and 1990-91 Lexus ES 250 models.
NHTSA closed a series of cases after finding no defect trend.
They included complaints about the following:
Loss of steering in 1992-95 Ford E-150 vans.
Fires in steering column areas of 1995 Dodge and Plymouth Neons.
Canvas tops flying off of 1992-94 Dodge Vipers.
Rear brakes locking up in 1994 Mazda B2300 pickups.
Steering wheels breaking in 1994-95 Chevrolet Caprice police cars.
NHTSA ended its probe of engine cooling fan fires in certain 1991-95 Ford Tauruses, Mercury Sables and Lincoln Continentals after the manufacturer issued a voluntary safety recall.
A GM recall also ended NHTSA's investigation of engine subframe mount failures in 1990 Chevrolet Lumina APV, Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans.
Other new preliminary evaluations opened by NHTSA included the following:
1992-93 DODGE CARAVAN, PLYMOUTH VOYAGER, CHRYSLER TOWN & COUNTRY MINIVANS
Problem: Windshield wipers fail.
Vehicle population: 1 million.
1990-91 CHEVROLET LUMINA APV, OLDSMOBILE SILHOUETTE, PONTIAC TRANS SPORT MINIVANS
Problem: Front seat back collapses.
Vehicle population: 212,000.
1996 TOYOTA AVALON
Problem: Turn signals fail.
Vehicle population: 56,000.