Feds boost scrutiny of Wrangler electrical issue

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday it is upgrading an investigation into nearly 630,000 Jeep Wrangler SUVs for an electrical wiring problem that may cause air bags to not work properly.

NHTSA said it is opening an engineering analysis into 628,167 2007-12 models after opening a preliminary investigation in June. The agency says the vehicles may have an electrical issue causing the clockspring wiring in the driver-side air bag circuit to fail.

The inquiry follows Fiat Chrysler's recall of about 10,000 right-hand drive Jeep Wrangler SUVs built 2008-12 after a government investigation in 2011. The company also issued extended warranty coverage for the 2007 right-hand drive models.

NHTSA says it has nearly 500 complaints of problems related to the 630,000 Wranglers now under investigation, and that FCA identified 1,703 consumer complaints, field reports and legal claims relating to the defect condition.

Six of the reports alleged that an air bag had failed to deploy in a crash, in which either the air-bag warning light was allegedly on or came on after impact. One of the reports alleged injuries as a result of the air bag’s failure to deploy.

FCA also provided NHTSA with nearly 17,000 warranty claims related to the replacement of the air-bag clockspring wiring assembly, although some of the claims involved clockspring failures due to cruise control or radio-operation issues that would not affect air bag functions.

Opening an engineering analysis is a step that NHTSA takes before the agency may formally demand an automaker recall vehicles.

FCA said it supports NHTSA’s decision, as it would provide the automaker with sufficient time to conduct proper analysis and take action, as appropriate.

“Customers are urged to contact their dealers anytime they observe a warning light,” FCA spokesman Eric Mayne said Tuesday.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736