WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have opened a defect investigation of 2000 Ford Explorers because of a single, but fatal, rollover crash.
The officials are looking not at questions about vehicle stability, but rather at the reliability of seat belt material.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it received a report of a rollover crash in which the front passenger's seat belt came apart near the buckle. The occupant was thrown partially from the sport-utility and killed.
The agency said it has not determined how many vehicles are covered by the investigation.
NHTSA, in its monthly compilation of defect investigations, said it also opened a case because of two reports of side airbags that were torn when they deployed in General Motors minivans.
Both were on the passenger side, and each tear may have been caused by the toggle switch for the power sliding door on the B-pillar, NHTSA officials said.
The agency said a torn airbag might not provide the protection that is expected.
The investigation covers about 490,000 minivans from the 1998-99 model years. They include Chevrolet Ventures, Pontiac Trans Sports and Montanas, and Oldsmobile Silhouettes.
NHTSA said it closed four investigations. One investigation, of leaking transmission oil cooler lines in 1998-99 Kia Sephias, was closed because NHTSA found insufficient evidence that a defect exists, the agency said.
Three others were closed because manufacturers agreed to do safety recalls. They had been launched because of complaints about the following:
Engine cooling fan fires in 1995 Ford Contours and Mercury Mystiques.
Broken front stabilizer bar links in 1995-96 Ford Explorers.
Transmission and transfer case failures in all-wheel-drive Ford Aerostars from the 1992-97 model years.
In the case of the Aerostars, NHTSA determined that a recall launched by Ford Motor Co. in September 1997 and expanded in April 1999 already covered the vehicles about which it had received subsequent complaints.