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NHTSA Opens Probe of Chevrolet Caprice Engine Fire Reports

January 16, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal regulators have opened a preliminary investigation into reports that the engines of some 1986-87 Chevrolet Caprice cars tend to catch fire, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday.

The investigation, the first step in the agency’s process for dealing with reports of safety problems, followed six complaints of engine-compartment fires in the vehicles.

There were no accidents, injuries or deaths as a result of the fires, NHTSA said.

Neither NHTSA nor the cars’ maker, Detroit-based General Motors Corp., could say how many cars were involved in the investigation, which covers Caprices with V-8 engines.

″As always, we’re going to cooperate fully with them,″ said Bill Noack, GM spokesman in Washington.

NHTSA said it had no indication of what might be causing fires in the cars. Such cases are usually difficult to evaluate because the fire destroys the evidence, NHTSA said.

″We always consider engine fires to be pretty serious business, because for one thing, there is always the possibility of a burn injury, and they can range from minor to extreme,″ said Russell Shew with the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington-based consumer group that monitors the auto industry and its regulators.

Shew said car interiors ″aren’t going to offer much protection″ because fabrics are allowed to burn at about 4 inches per minute, a rate sufficient ″to support any kind of fire.″

The center, which is often critical of NHTSA, believes regulators are more likely to respond to reports of fires than to some other defects.

″We are glad they’re looking into it,″ Shew said.

NHTSA opened its preliminary investigation on Dec. 10 but announced it Friday in a status report of ongoing regulatory actions.

GM had only recently received notification from NHTSA, and its internal investigation of the reports was in the preliminary stages, Noack said.

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