WASHINGTON -- U.S. auto safety regulators said Monday they were opening a probe into nearly 1.9 million Toyota RAV4 vehicles for fire risks.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the preliminary evaluation into 2013-2018 RAV4 vehicles comes after 11 reports of fires.
The agency said some drivers experienced stalling prior to the fire in half of the instances where the vehicle was in motion. The 12-volt battery was identified as the area of origin in a majority of incidents reviewed, the agency said.
"Toyota is aware that NHTSA has opened this investigation and we are cooperating with the agency," said Toyota spokesman Ed Hellwig.
The RAV4 is by far Toyota's best-selling vehicle in the U.S. with deliveries of 430,287 units in 2020 -- a 3.9 percent decline from 2019.
The NHTSA said that improper battery installation or previous front-end collision repair was a factor in fire reports. But the agency said that, despite these external influences on the battery retaining method, the number of vehicle fires reported with the battery as the area of origin is larger than for other similar vehicles.
The agency said the investigation has been "opened to better understand the contributing factors and frequency of vehicle fires originating from the battery region of the subject vehicles".
One report said that a RAV4 caught fire in Lyons, Colo., after the owner of a 2017 Toyota RAV4 hybrid was driving 50 miles per hour when the check-engine light came on and then white smoke emerged from beneath the hood.
Most NHTSA investigations start as preliminary evaluations, where agency engineers request information from the manufacturer, including data on complaints, injuries and warranty claims. The manufacturer can also present its view regarding the alleged defect and may issue a recall.
After the evaluation, NHTSA will either close the investigation or move into the next phase. If a safety-related defect exists, according to NHTSA, the agency may send a "recall request" letter to the manufacturer. Typically, automakers will initiate recalls before NHTSA forces them to do so.
Automotive News contributed to this report.