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Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is opening an investigation into Chrysler's recall of nearly 1 million Dodge Ram trucks for steering issues, prompted more than 1,000 complaints from owners seeking faster repairs.

In November, Chrysler Group LLC told NHTSA it was issuing two recalls covering about 970,000 2003-2012 Ram trucks because tie rods could crack causing a loss of steering control and crashes.

NHTSA said it "has received hundreds of complaints from owners reporting frustrations with obtaining service appointments and having their vehicles remedied under the safety recall. Many owners have complained of dealers informing them it would be many months before the dealership could secure a replacement part for their vehicle."

Chrysler didn't immediately comment on Sunday.

The recall covers 706,664 2003-2008 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 and 3500 4x4, 2007-2008 Dodge Ram 3500 4x2 Cab Chassis and 2006-2008 Dodge Ram 1500 Mega Cab 4x4. The second recall covers 265,057 2008-2012 Ram 2500 4X4 and 3500 4X4 trucks, 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 3500 4x2 Cab Chassis, and 2008 Dodge RAM 1500 Mega Cab 4x4.

The recalls were prompted part by NHTSA's concerns raised with Chrysler over the effectiveness of a 2011 recall of 242,000 trucks for the same tie rod issue. NHTSA had raised questions about the fix "including concerns about the difficulty of the repair procedure and application of by independent repair shops that may have limited access to information or tooling needed to perform the recall repairs correctly."

Chrysler opted to expand the recall scope and "change the recall remedy to replacement of the left tie rod assembly with a left tie rod assembly of a different design. Chrysler notified the affected owners of vehicles in December 2013, and said in its letter that they could start scheduling service appointments to have their vehicles remedied beginning January 6, 2014."

When Chrysler announced the recall in November, it said only a small percentage of those called back would need fixes. For the recall of 706,000 vehicles — including another 136,000 outside the United States — Chrysler said it estimated about 116,000 would need to be replaced.

In November, Chrysler said it was aware of six accidents and two injuries involving model-year 2008-2012 2500 and 3500 trucks and one additional accident with no injuries involving the remaining models. In a third related recall of 43,000 2008-2012 heavy duty trucks, Chrysler said owners 4500 and 5500 models may get interim service repairs because replacement parts may not be available until late 2014.\

In total, Chrysler said it was recalling about 1.2 million vehicles worldwide in the three recalls for steering problems.

NHTSA said in an Oct. 22 letter to Chrysler that it has received 1,012 complaints since January about the recall launch, with owners complaining about delays for months until they get parts. The letter also questioned why dealers can only order one repair kit at a time. Chrysler must respond to a list of detailed questions by Nov. 21.

Chrysler told NHTSA earlier this year that there "were not any recall administrative issues or unusual remedy parts restrictions."

NHTSA said it has since learned from dealers about severe parts restrictions in place and obtained a copy of a notification from Chrysler's Mopar parts unit "issued instructing dealers to immediately return the replacement tie rod assemblies for quality verification."

Chrysler confirmed "the recall campaigns had been suspended while it investigated quality concerns with the parts. Eventually, the campaigns resumed. NHTSA is opening this audit query in order to better understand and evaluate Chrysler's process(es) for timely and efficient execution of its safety recall campaigns, including its oversight and management of its parts division Mopar, and to identify and help rectify any issues or concerns that resulted in the various miscommunications and delays associated with safety recalls."

Chrysler also came under fire from NHTSA for delaying the start of a contentious June 2013 recall of 1.56 million Jeep SUVs.

Chrysler told NHTSA in July it will now be able to complete production of trailer hitchs by mid-March, far faster than the original timetable of up to 4.7 years. When vehicle attrition is taken into account, along with lower recall participation rates for older vehicles, Chrysler estimates that 268,772 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 579,455 Jeep Liberty hitch assemblies will be installed — about 50 percent of the Grand Cherokees and 80 percent of the Liberty SUVs that were made.

Repairs were to start in August — 13 months after Chrysler agreed to install the hitches.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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