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Washington — FCA US LLC said Friday it is recalling nearly 257,000 Dodge Ram pickups in the United States because a loose nut may cause the rear axle to seize.

The Auburn Hills unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said it is recalling 256,956 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups built from January 2004 through August 2005. Chrysler dealers will install a retention feature to the pinion nut. The recall will begin Feb. 13. The recall in total covers 280,000 vehicles worldwide.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the pinion nut can loosen, causing the rear axle to seize. The driveshaft also may detach, which could cause a crash.

In June, NHTSA said it is opening an investigation into 260,000 Dodge Ram pickups over reports of rear axle failures — the agency's second investigation over the issue in recent years.

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

The safety agency said the reports indicate 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," the driver said in the the complaint.

The car came to a screeching stop as heavy smoke poured off the vehicle.

"My truck was smoking from everywhere," the driver said.

The repairs cost $4,500.

In July 2012, NHTSA opened an investigation into the same issue in 2009-10 Dodge Ram trucks. In October 2012, Chrysler recalled 48,058 2009-10 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 February 2013 to recall another 266,091 2009-12 Dodge Ram 1500 and 8,475 2009-10 Dodge Dakota trucks — along with about 3,500 2009 Chrysler Aspen and 2009 Dodge Durango vehicles. NHTSA closed its investigation in March 2013.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com

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