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U.S. closes 3 Chrysler defect investigations

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is closing three defect investigations into Chrysler vehicles after the Auburn Hills unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV agreed to issue recalls covering more than 960,000 cars and trucks.

One of the three recalls hadn’t been previously announced. NHTSA said Chrysler and Mitsubishi Motors North America on Dec. 16 agreed to recall 66,819 Dodge Ram Trucks, Dodge Dakota, and Mitsubishi Raider vehicles equipped with manual transmissions. The 2006 through early-2007 vehicles were recalled because of a potentially faulty switch related to the clutch.

Chrysler said the switch springs may fail because of material issues and could result in a vehicle experiencing unintended movement if the ignition is cranked when the clutch pedal is not being pressed. Federal law requires a driver to depress the brake or clutch to start a car -- to prevent small children from accidentally starting a vehicle.

Chrysler's recall remedy will replace the clutch ignition interlock switch on all affected vehicles with a switch with a more robust design. NHTSA opened its investigation in May after a report of a death that occurred when a young child was able to start a 2006 Ram 3500 truck that was parked with the transmission in gear, without depressing the clutch.

The diesel engine started and the vehicle moved forward under power, running over another child and resulting in fatal injuries, the safety agency said. NHTSA's analysis of failure data found 14 complaints and 16 warranty claims.

NHTSA hasn’t posted the Chrysler recall notice on its website, but described it in other documents.

The safety agency said in documents posted on its website that it is closing three preliminary investigations it opened in May and June into complaints involving three separate issues.

The biggest issue involves 643,618 2006-2007 Jeep Commanders and 2005-2007 Jeep Grand Cherokees recalled to address the problem of ignition turning off while driving.

NHTSA said the recalled vehicles “may experience an unintended change in ignition switch position while driving, which may result in loss of engine power, power steering, and braking assist, increasing the risk of a crash and disabling one or more of the vehicle's safety features including the frontal air bags.”

NHTSA is also closing a probe into 256,000 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup trucks because they may have an axle pinion nut that can loosen, due to an undersized spline on the pinion gear. The faulty part may cause the rear axle to seize and the driveshaft to separate, potentially causing a crash.