WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have opened an investigation of side airbags in Lincoln Continentals after receiving three complaints about deployments that occurred without crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said two people reported minor injuries from the deployments.
Affected vehicles are from the 1999 and 2000 model years. About 50,000 of the cars are in service, NHTSA said.
The agency also said it is stepping up its investigation of refueling problems in 1998 Ford Contours and Mercury Mystiques.
NHTSA and Ford Motor Co. have collected a total of 45 complaints about gasoline spitting back during refueling. The company reported 251 related warranty claims and more than 11,000 other incidents of refueling difficulty.
In August 1998 Ford advised dealers that flapper valves in the filler pipes of the cars could stick closed if they had been exposed to ethanol fuel, and the company produced a replacement valve that is not prone to swell and become distorted from ethanol exposure.
NHTSA said it upgraded its investigation from a preliminary evaluation to the more intense level of engineering analysis to see if a recall may be necessary. Ford told the agency the amount of fuel that spits back does not pose a safety hazard.
About 278,000 of the cars are in service.
In a new case, NHTSA said it began a preliminary evaluation of 1998 and 1999 Ford Crown Victoria police cars after receiving 29 complaints about the rear suspension.
The agency said the mounting bracket for the rear axle trailing arm develops cracks, and sometimes the arm separates from the vehicle frame. About 25,000 of the cars are in service.
Meanwhile, NHTSA said it has closed three investigations after finding insufficient evidence that defects exist. The cases had been opened because of complaints about the following:
Spare tires that came loose from 1991-96 Chevrolet S10 and GMC Sonoma pickups.
Spare tires that detached from 1991-94 Ford Explorers.
Airbag modules that were not secured firmly in 2000 Jeep Wrangler steering wheels.
NHTSA closed an investigation of parking brake malfunctions in 1994 and 1995 Ford Mustangs after the manufacturer agreed to recall the vehicles.