WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have stepped up an investigation of some mid-sized General Motors cars because of 61 complaints that airbags deployed without crashes or impacts.
The deploying airbags caused injuries to 38 people, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. GM declined comment on the injuries.
Vehicles under investigation are 1995-96 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Buick Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix. Nearly 600,000 of the cars are in service.
Agency records show that in 55 cases only the driver airbag deployed. In six others both front airbags went off. In all cases, complainants said the deployments occurred when they started the cars or when the cars were being driven in normal operation.
Along with the GM airbags, NHTSA upgraded two other defect investigations from preliminary evaluation to the more serious level of engineering analysis. Both involve malfunctioning windshield wipers.
The agency and Ford Motor Co. together have collected nearly 500 complaints about wipers that failed intermittently or completely on 1993 Ford Tauruses and Mercury Sables. About 555,000 of the cars are in service, NHTSA said.
The agency and GM together have recorded more than 300 complaints about wipers failing, especially in cold weather, on some 1997-98 mid-sized cars. They are the Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Intrigue, and Buick Century and Regal. More than 900,000 of them are on the road. One crash was blamed on the problem.
GM said it also has handled more than 17,000 warranty claims for malfunctioning wipers on the cars.
NHTSA said it closed two defect investigations after DaimlerChrysler agreed to safety recalls.
One investigation stemmed from complaints about faulty welds on brackets that attach lower control arms to engine cradles on 1994 Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision and Chrysler Concorde, New Yorker and LHS sedans.
The other grew out of complaints about breaks in attachments of front springs and shock absorbers to the frames
of 1994-95 four-wheel-drive Dodge Rams, 2500 and 3500 series.
In its monthly compilation, NHTSA also said it opened the following new defect investigations:
1999 MERCEDES-BENZ SLK230
Problem: Fuel spits back from filler pipe during refueling.
Vehicle population: 10,000.
1995 FORD CONTOUR, MERCURY MYSTIQUE
Problem: Engine cooling fan fails, may catch fire.
Complaints: Six, including four fires.
Vehicle population: 246,000.