June 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

U.S. investigates 260,000 Dodge Ram trucks for rear axle failures

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Saturday it is opening an investigation into 260,000 Dodge Ram pickup trucks over reports of rear axle failures — the agency’s second investigation over the issue in recent years.

NHTSA said its investigation covers the 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 trucks after 15 reports of rear axle lock-up or drive shaft detachment from the rear differential caused by loose pinion nuts.

The safety agency said the reports indicate that there was little or no noise or other warning before the lock-up and/or separation. Seven incidents occurred at speeds of 50 mph or greater, while two say the rear axle lockup caused the truck to go into a spin. The most recent complaint was filed May 16.

One complaint said the driver and his two children “almost died as a result of the powertrain failure” of the 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 in July 2013. The driver was on a highway near Elkhart, Ind., traveling about 70 miles an hour when the driver heard a loud bang — he said the rear pinion nut came loose locking up the rear end “and throwing the drive shaft completely off my vehicle with no warning” in heavy traffic.

“I lost immediate control of the vehicle. I fought to regain control of my truck, just missing being rear ended and broad sided by several vehicles,” said the driver in the the complaint. The car came to a screeching stop as heavy smoke poured off the vehicle. “My truck was smoking from everywhere,” said the driver. The repairs cost $4,500.

In July 2012, NHTSA opened an investigation into the same issue in 2009-2010 Dodge Ram trucks.

In October 2012, Chrysler recalled 48,058 2009-2010 Dodge Ram 1500 and Dodge Dakota trucks that were built with an axle pinion nut that can loosen, which could result in lock-up of the rear axle and/or separation of the rear drive shaft from the rear axle.

NHTSA’s investigation found 194 reports, including three crash reports, of rear axle lock up and/or drive shaft separation outside of the 2012 recall scope, which prompted Chrysler in Febryary 2013 to recall another 266,091 2009-2012 Dodge Ram 1500 and 8,475 2009-2010 Dodge Dakota — along with about 3,500 2009 Chrysler Aspen and 2009 Dodge Durango. NHTSA closed its investigation in March 2013.

NHTSA typically spends up to a year on a preliminary investigation before it decides whether to upgrade the issue to an engineering analysis. That step is required before NHTSA can seek to force an automaker to call back vehicles.

Chrysler has a policy of cooperating with all NHTSA investigations but didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment left early Saturday.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com