WASHINGTON - Federal safety officials have expanded an investigation of DaimlerChrysler minivan wiring that breaks and causes airbags, cruise control systems and horns to fail.
The worst-case scenario for DaimlerChrysler: If parts are proved defective, the company would have to recall as many as 2.8 million minivans from the 1996-2000 model years. The affected models are Plymouth Voyager and Grand Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan, and Chrysler Town & Country.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency and the manufacturer have collected 164 complaints about component failures that could be related to the wiring.
Clockspring to blame?
The wiring is part of the clockspring assembly, which is designed to maintain electrical connections while the steering wheel rotates. NHTSA said it has evidence the wiring fatigues and breaks. The complaints include two reported crashes in which driver airbags did not function. Two people were injured.
Most complaints were filed because the airbag warning light came on.
In addition, NHTSA said it received records from DaimlerChrysler showing that the company has supplied nearly 125,000 replacement clockspring assemblies for the 1996-2000 minivans.
DaimlerChrysler spokesman Dominick Infante said the total includes replacements used in all kinds of vehicle service, such as collision repair, and not just those needed for faulty clockspring assemblies.
He said the company is cooperating with NHTSA.
The agency began investigating 1996 minivans last August. In February, it upgraded the investigation from a preliminary evaluation to the more intense level of engineering analysis. NHTSA also expanded the investigation to four more model years.
Action on Ford cases
In its monthly report on defect investigations, NHTSA also said it upgraded another case to an engineering analysis. The case involves seat belt webbing on about 80,000 1999-2001 Ford Explorer XLS sport-utilities.
The case emerged from a reported rollover crash in which an occupant's belt apparently tore. The person was partially ejected from the vehicle and killed.
In another action, NHTSA said it closed a case involving cracks in rear axle trailing arm brackets on certain large Ford Motor Co. cars because it did not find sufficient evidence of a safety defect.
But, NHTSA said, the company has agreed to inspect all 187,000 of the cars in service, reinforce trailing arm attachments and add welds where cracks have appeared.
The affected vehicles are Ford Crown Victoria police cars, taxis and natural-gas-fueled cars and Lincoln Town Car limousines, all from the 1998-99 model years.
NHTSA said the company demonstrated to agency investigators that, even with trailing arms fully detached, the cars do not go out of control. The agency and the company together had collected 77 complaints of cracked brackets or detached trailing arms.
The agency said it closed three more defect investigations, one because a safety defect was not found and two because manufacturers agreed to do safety recalls.
No safety defect was found in speed-sensitive power steering of full-sized General Motors pickups and sport-utilities from the 1997-99 model years despite more than 800 complaints, including reports of seven crashes with three injuries and two deaths. About 2.5 million of the trucks are in service.
The complaints cited unexpected steering wheel movements at moderate to high speeds, NHTSA said.
The cases closed because of recalls had been opened because of complaints about sticking throttles in 1997-98 Ford Explorers and steering column fires in 1994-95 Pontiac Grand Ams, Buick Skylarks and Oldsmobile Achievas.