U.S. investigates Fiat Chrysler sun visor fire fix

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether Fiat Chrysler’s recall fix of nearly 900,000 SUVs worldwide for sun visor fires were enough after reports of eight incidents in repaired vehicles.

In July, Fiat Chrysler recalled 895,000 2011-14 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs for fire concerns and said it would reroute wiring for vanity-mirror lights after government regulators upgraded an investigation into the issue. The recall includes 661,000 vehicles in the United States.

The Auburn Hills unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said if a recalled SUV "was involved in a repair related to servicing the vanity mirror and/or headliner, the wiring — located inside the sun visor — may be subject to short-circuit and fire if not appropriately reassembled by the dealer."

NHTSA said Tuesday it is opening an investigation into Fiat Chrysler’s fix after the agency received eight reports of fires occurring after the remedy was installed, with some occupants complaining of smoke sometimes followed by flames erupting in the headliner. No crashes or injuries were alleged in the post remedy fires.

NHTSA began looking at the issue in 2013, when it opened an investigation into the issue. Fiat Chrysler has been looking at the issue since 2011.

The sun visors are mounted to the roof of the vehicle through the headliner with three metal screws. NHTSA’s three-year investigation determined that it was possible for the sun visor wiring to be pierced by one of these screws, or otherwise electrically shorted either during initial vehicle assembly or later headliner area repairs, which may cause an electrical short potentially resulting in fire. NHTSA said most of the fires occurred while the vehicle was being driven.

The fix includes using a plastic guideway on each sun visor that routes the wiring away from the screws. Dealers must lower the headliner and the existing sun visor and headliner wiring is rerouted through the guideway and reinstalled.

Fiat Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said the company is cooperating.

Last year, the automaker said it was aware of three related injuries. Chrysler told NHTSA it was aware of 62 reports of fire incidents.

In August 2013, NHTSA said it was opening a preliminary investigation into reports of three major fires in Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. The investigation initially covered 146,000 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. The expanded investigation — announced in January 2014 — covered two more model years and a Durango version.

Chrysler said it opened an investigation into the issue in March 2011. Chrysler revised the repair wiring procedure on four occasions between 2011 and 2013. Chrysler said in its recall notice that NHTSA "prefers that Chrysler inspect all vehicles and repair damage wiring as needed."

NHTSA had said in August it was closing its investigation into fires in Chrysler SUV sun visors, saying it was satisfied with the recall fix.