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Engine Fires Prompt Stepped-Up Probe of Hyundais

June 26, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government’s auto safety agency is stepping up an investigation of 49 engine fires in 1986-1989 Hyundai Excels that engineers say may be caused by malfunctioning valves.

But the South Korean automaker is not acknowledging the vehicle is defective, a spokeswoman said.

An estimated 837,000 of the cars are on U.S. roads, Tim Hurd, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Tuesday.

The agency opened a preliminary evaluation, involving mostly paperwork, in January. It decided last month to upgrade the investigation to an engineering analysis, in which the possibly defective parts will be studied, Hurd said.

The inquiry eventually could lead to a recall.

NHTSA engineers believe the problem is linked to a pipe linking the air cleaner to the catalytic converter, Hurd said. When valves in the pipe malfunction, exhaust gases can ignite flammable materials around the air cleaner.

″Our engineers are working on the theory that that’s what is happening,″ Hurd said. No firm conclusion has been reached, he said.

″We don’t believe there’s any safety concern at this point,″ said Dotty Diemer, government relations manager for Hyundai Motor America, the U.S. subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. She said the company was preparing to respond to NHTSA’s request for information to assist in the probe.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the government agency said it had opened preliminary evaluations involving:

-Loose steering wheels in the Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Chevrolet Lumina and Pontiac Grand Prix models made since 1986. Although the investigation covers all those cars, there has been only one complaint of a wheel coming unfastened.

-Gasoline leaks in the 1987 models of the Chrysler Omni, Plymouth Horizon, Dodge Charger and Plymouth Turismo. There have been 17 complaints of leaks from a reservoir connected to the mechanical fuel pump. The pump has been replaced with an electrical device on later models.

An estimated 288,800 of the cars are on the road.

-Failure of anti-lock brakes in 1988-1991 Ford light trucks. There have been 20 complaints blaming the problem for 14 accidents and seven injuries. About 1 million of the trucks are on the road.

-Faulty headlights in the 1987-1988 Ford Mustang. There have been 13 complaints of the lights flickering when the fog lights are illuminated. An estimated 338,710 vehicles are on the road.

-Unexpected power surges in the 1991 Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim. There have been six complaints, one alleging an accident, that the engine suddenly begins racing. About 83,000 cars are on the road.

Several preliminary evaluations were discontinued after no evidence of a widespread defect was found.

They included probes of unstable engine idling in the 1990 Volkswagen Jetta; breaking door handles in the 1986-1988 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable; sliding door hinge failure in the 1990 Chevrolet Astro Van and a fractured lug stud in the 1986-1989 Isuzu Trooper II.

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