WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials are intensifying their investigation of large sedans built by the former Chrysler Corp. to determine whether a defect has been causing the front suspensions to collapse.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency and the manufacturer have received 26 complaints about the problem and the company has handled 105 possibly related warranty claims.
The affected vehicles are 1994 Dodge Intrepids, Eagle Visions and Chrysler Concorde, LHS and New Yorker models. There are nearly 300,000 of the vehicles on the road.
NHTSA officials said the reported failures appear to stem from broken welds or cracks where the lower control arm attaches to the front cradle.
Motorists whose suspensions collapse may lose control, and the cars' front axles and CV joints also may be damaged, the agency said.
NHTSA pointed out that Chrysler Corp. made a design change for the 1995 model year, increasing the minimum thickness of part of a suspension cross member from 1.7 millimeters to 2.0. The agency said it knows of only one complaint of a failure after the change. It said there have been 49 warranty claims for engine cradle replacements on 1995-97 cars.
Agency officials upgraded the investigation from what they call a preliminary evaluation to the more serious engineering analysis.
In other defect cases, NHTSA said it has opened an investigation of the 1996 Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique to determine whether there is a flaw in headlight switches or wiring.
The agency received five complaints about lights failing and one report of a dashboard fire. There are about 240,000 of the cars in service.
NHTSA closed an investigation of steering shafts on 1999 Ford F-250 trucks after finding no evidence of a defect. The case grew out of one complaint about a broken shaft that led to a crash.
The agency closed three other investigations after manufacturers agreed to conduct safety recalls. The cases grew out of complaints about the following:
Inadvertent airbag deployments in 1994-95 Subaru Imprezas and 1995-96 Subaru Legacys.
Ball joint failures in 1996 Ford Crown Victoria police vehicles.
Under-hood fuel fires in 1993 Audi 90 and 100 models.