Update on NHTSA Investigation
NHTSA to investigate GM vehicles
Reuters / December 04, 2002
DETROIT -- U.*. federal safety regulators have intensified an investigation into more than 2 million General Motors cars after 600 complaints of engine problems that could lead to a fire.
The U.*. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also said on Wednesday it had opened three separate investigations into defects with popular family sedans from Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.
In the GM case, NHTSA said the probe covered about 2.3 million Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile models built between 1996 and 2000 with 3.8 liter V6 engines. NHTSA said 604 consumers had complained either to GM or the agency that an engine backfire had fractured the intake manifold, with 44 reports to NHTSA of fires caused by fuel leaking from the broken manifolds.
GM had recalled 276,000 V6-powered cars in 1996 for a similar problem, and NHTSA said the automaker had made three design changes to models built since then aimed at dealing with backfiring. NHTSA also said the number of complaints had been rising in the past six years.
The agency said GM was contending the problem was not a safety concern because it was rare, there were few reports of injuries and the problem happens during start-up, not while the vehicle is in motion.
NHTSA'* move made the investigation an engineering analysis, one step shy of a recall. NHTSA rarely orders automakers to recall vehicles; either automakers issue their own recalls, or the investigations find no safety defect.
Of the trio of investigations involving Asian-designed mid-sized cars, the largest was spurred by complaints of fires in Toyota Camry sedans, one of the top-selling cars in the United States, sold between model year 1997 and 2002.
NHTSA said it had received 35 complaints, including reports of two crashes and one injury, stemming from fires in the engine compartment of Camrys. The agency did not estimate how many Camrys the investigation covered, but Toyota regularly sells more than 400,000 a year in the United States.
A similar problem triggered an investigation into 2002 Nissan Altima sedans with four-cylinder engines. NHTSA said it had three complaints of engine compartment fires in Altimas, and that all three vehicles were totaled.
Ten complaints of seat frame bracket failures in 1999-2002 Honda Accords triggered another NHTSA investigation. The agency said the complaints allege the bracket can come loose, allowing the seat to fall backward without warning.
All the investigations are classified as "preliminary evaluations," where NHTSA asks for complaint data from automakers to determine whether a trend exists and whether a problem warrants a closer look.