Dodge, Jeep Fires Stemming from Sun Visor Lights Investigated by NHTSA

Federal investigators have launched an investigation into reports of fires involving Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango vehicles, which may have started with a short-circuit in the sun visors.  

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is conducting an engineering analysis on almost 600,000 2011 through 2013 model year Grand Cherokee and Durango SUVs, due to a possible short circuit in light-up vanity mirrors that could be sparking fires in or near the sun visors. The investigation could result in the vehicles being recalled.

At least 41 incidents have been reported to the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) and the manufacturers, with 37 reports involving either fires or auto accidents, and three reports including injuries, according to an NHTSA report (PDF). However, the NHTSA says it believes there are at least 52 unique fire incidents linked to the problem.

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In some of the incidents, the problem resulted in just minor overheating. However, there are some cases where the visors erupted in flames that spread to the front seat and door panels of the vehicle, or caused the sunroof to shatter.

“The cause of these fires is an electrical short in the vanity lighting wiring circuit that is routed to either one of the sun visors,” the NHTSA report states. “The sun visors are mounted to the roof of the vehicle through the headliner with three screws. The sun visor wiring may be penetrated, or pierced by one of these screws either during initial vehicle assembly or subsequent headliner area repairs.”

According to the report, the piercing causes an electrical short that could result in a fire. Since there is no dedicated fuse for the affected circuit, the short could continue as long as the vehicle is keyed on.

The investigation is currently looking at 593,299 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango vehicles from the 2011-2013 model years.

The engineering analysis is the last step before the NHTSA considers requesting a vehicle recall. Chrysler says it supports the investigation.

The investigation comes less than a year after the NHTSA and Chrysler fought over whether to recall nearly 2.7 million Jeep vehicles due to a potential risk of fires after rear impact accidents. At least 51 deaths were reported after rear-impact collisions caused Jeep vehicles to burst into flames, according to the NHTSA.

Chrysler initially refused to issue the recall despite pressure by the NHTSA, Center for Auto Safety and other safety groups. The company originally maintained that it did not agree with the government’s determination that the vehicles are unsafe and refused to issue the recall.

Eventually, Chrysler agreed to the Jeep recall, offering an alternative solution to fixing the problem. The recall Chrysler agreed to involved nearly half of the vehicles both the NHTSA and the Center for Auto Safety said should be recalled.

Photo courtesy of halidCan! (: via Flickr Creative Commons

Image Credit: |Photo courtesy of halidCan! (: via Flickr Creative Commons

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