Chrysler Steering Columns Probed

(Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2003)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that it is investigating the steering columns of 1993-95 Chrysler cars and light trucks, which could result in the recall of nearly 5 million vehicles.

The federal agency is looking into whether sections of the steering-column shaft may separate, causing a loss of control. NHTSA said it has received four complaints, including one crash with an injury. An investigation is the first step toward a possible recall or a finding of no defect.

The inquiry was launched May 7 after the agency received a request from a California attorney handling a class-action lawsuit involving the alleged defect, NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett said.

The investigation affects all Chrysler vehicles from those years except for two models that already were recalled for the problem: 115,000 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 475,000 1994-95 Dodge Ram pickups.

DaimlerChrysler, the parent company, believes that all the vehicles with the problem already have been recalled, said company spokeswoman Angela Spencer Ford. The automaker, the third-largest in the U.S., is cooperating with the agency, she said.

The agency said it received a letter last month from Larry Sackey, an attorney with the law firm Herbert Hafif in Claremont, who asked for an investigation of all 1987 to ‘95 model vehicles built by Chrysler.

Sackey was not immediately available for comment.

NHTSA said it decided to limit its investigation to the 1993 to ‘95 models, excluding the vehicles already recalled. The automaker couldn’t immediately say how many of the vehicles are still on the road.

The agency also is investigating General Motors Corp.’s 2002 GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada sport-utility vehicles because erratic voltage in air-suspension systems may interfere with a powertrain controller and cause the engines to stall. The action affects about 55,000 vehicles, and NHTSA said it has received 697 complaints.

Another NHTSA inquiry involves four incidents of heated steering wheels on 1998 and ‘99 models of Volkswagen’s Audi A6 and Audi A6 Avant cars burning drivers’ hands or possibly causing a fire, the agency said. About 22,000 cars are affected.