2012 Jeep Liberty (Chrysler)
Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it is opening an investigation into nearly 80,000 2012 Jeep Liberty SUVs over fire risks.
NHTSA said it is opening the preliminary evaluation following two reports of the driver’s side door catching fire, including one injury of a driver burning his fingers trying to open the door.
The two drivers reported a burning odor and smoke coming from the driver’s door followed by flames, NHTSA said. In both instances, the driver had to stop the vehicle and exit through the passenger door. “In addition to the fire, consumers reported erratic function of the windows and door locks resulting in activation on their own while the fire was occurring,” NHTSA said.
One complaint said the Liberty caught fire a second time after it was repaired.
Chrysler said it is looking into the issue. “Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group. Accordingly, our engineers are investigating these two reports while also fully supporting the inquiry initiated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” spokesman Eric Mayne said.
One of the complaints was made in May 2012 by a driver with a six-month-old Liberty. The owner said he was traveling with his two children when burning black smoke came from the driver’s door.
“I stood there in shock for a moment,” he wrote NHTSA, saying the window switches had melted and sank into the door. The other complaint was filed in March over a February 2012 incident over a five-month-old Liberty and the driver said he was driving his wife’s car for the second time when the door caught fire. He said he burned his fingers opening the door.
“I was moments from entering an interstate and the thought of what would have happened to myself if I would have not been able to get off the road in time!” he wrote.
NHTSA doesn’t disclose the names of people filing complaints or generally where they are from.
NHTSA will spend the next few months gathering data and looking to see if Chrysler has received any other reports of similar incidents before deciding whether to upgrade its investigation to an engineering analysis — a step necessary before it can ask an automaker to recall vehicles it deems unsafe.
Door fires have been a big issue over the last year -- with nearly 10 million vehicles recalled worldwide to address door fire concerns.
In June, Honda Motor Co. said it is recalling more than 685,000 Honda Fit hatchbacks worldwide for the second time since 2010 to replace the master power window switch to avoid fire risks. The Japanese automaker urged drivers to park the vehicles outside until it is inspected.
Honda said under severe conditions, rain water or other liquids may enter through an open driver's window and enter the master power window switch in the door.
In June, General Motors Co. agreed to recall 231,000 older SUVs over fire risks and urged owners to park them outside garages until they are repaired. GM agreed to recall 193,000 2006-2007 Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, SAAB 9-7x, Isuzu Ascender and 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL in the United States.
Fluid may enter the driver's door, causing rust that could result in a short in the circuit board.
At least 28 door fires were reported, including some when the vehicle was left unattended. This is the second recall of 2006-2007 GM SUVs for the issue since August; GM has now recalled about 440,000 vehicles to address the issue.
The expanded recall came after government pressure and a lengthy NHTSA investigation.
Subaru of America also recalled 633,000 vehicles for fire risks over door lights that may short circuit.
Subaru — a unit of Japan's Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. — said it is recalling all 2010-11 Legacy and Outback models, along with some 2006-12 Tribeca and 2009-12 Forester vehicles.
Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. recalled 7.43 million vehicles worldwide to fix power window switches — including 2.5 million in the United States — that could lead to a fire.
The Japanese automaker said it would inspect and apply special fluorine grease to the driver's side power window master switch.