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NHTSA Expands Investigation of Door Fires in Toyotas and GM SUVs

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NHTSA logoThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has expanded its investigation into what has caused door fires in certain Toyotas and General Motors (GM) SUVs. As Christopher Jensen reports in The New York Times blog Wheels, NHTSA began both investigations in February after receiving reports of fires.

The Toyota investigation originally covered a total of 830,000 vehicles, including the 2007 Camry, Camry Solara, and RAV4. And the expanded investigation, according to Wheels, covers 1.4 million Toyotas, including the 2007-9 Camry, Camry Hybrid, RAV4 and Yaris, as well as the 2008 Highlander Hybrid. Jensen writes: “The agency is investigating [342,000] 2006-7 Chevrolet TrailBlazers, though it said would consider sibling vehicles like the GMC Envoy as well.”

The NHTSA said it has knowledge of 161 Toyota fires, resulting in nine injuries, Jensen reports. Michael Ramsey writes on The Wall Street Journal blog Driver’s Seat that among the 32 complaints the agency received of electrical fires or smoke appearing to come from the driver-side door’s power window switch in 2007 through 2009 Toyotas, there was one complaint of a burn injury when a 2007 Camry passenger tried to put out a door fire. Toyota is cooperating with NHTSA in its review, Ramsey notes.

He writes:

Safety regulators are doing an engineering analysis of the matter, according to NHTSA’s website. It is a key step in determining the exact nature of a problem, and whether an auto maker has to issue a recall.

In the Wheels article, Jensen mentions a letter Toyota sent to NHTSA:

In a letter sent in April to safety agency, Toyota said its internal investigation suggested that owners or mechanics might have used over-the-counter lubricants, like silicone, on the switch, which could have caused a malfunction.

The automaker said that if an owner should ‘detect a melting, burning smell or flame occurring, the customer will have time to stop activating the switch and seek switch repair.’

Turning off the ignition will also cut power to the switch. Consequently, the automaker said the defect did not pose ‘an unreasonable risk to vehicle safety.’

In the matter of the TrailBlazers, NHTSA found 28 reports of fires and 242 complaints from owners, Jensen reports. In April, GM informed the agency that switches short-circuited, Jensen writes, causing windows and door locks to operate erratically. GM said that, as a result, heat and smoke could be produced, and in “exceptionally rare circumstances” the plastic could ignite, according to Wheels.

Image by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, used under Fair Use: Reporting.


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