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NHTSA Opens Probe of Chevrolet Caprice Engine Fire Reports

January 16, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Reports that engine-compartment fires are erupting in some Chevrolet Caprice cars prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open a preliminary investigation.

Neither NHTSA nor the cars’ maker, Detroit-based General Motors Corp., could say how many cars were involved in the investigation, which covers 1986-87 Caprices with V-8 engines.

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

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

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

The likely cause of the reported fires is uncertain, NHTSA said. Such cases are usually difficult to evaluate because the fire destroys the evidence, the agency said.

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.

″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.

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,″ Shew said.

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 Dec. 10 but didn’t announce it until Friday in a status report of ongoing regulatory actions.

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