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Government Intensifies 1985-1986 Fiero Fires Probe

April 19, 1989 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly 150,000 Pontiac Fieros may be in danger of catching fire from oil that escapes if owners fail to keep the crankcase filled, according to complaints that prompted an intensification of a federal safety probe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday it had upgraded a preliminary evaluation of the General Motors Corp. cars to an engineering analysis. Investigations are typically raised to the higher level when engineers see reason to believe there might be a safety problem with vehicles.

GM in 1987 agreed to recall 126,000 1984-model Fieros after similar reports of fires, NHTSA said. The 1985 and 1986 Fieros had the same oil-system design as did the 1984 models, said David Hudgens, a GM spokesman in Detroit.

According to the complaints, driving the Fieros with low oil levels can cause a connecting rod to break.

Oil escaping from the resulting hole ″would catch on fire when it contacted the exhaust manifold or hot exhaust components,″ the agency’s engineers said in summarizing the alleged defect.

The agency said it has received 148 complaints regarding the Fieros, including reports of six injuries.

The engineering analysis affects 147,571 1985 and 1986 Fieros, NHTSA said.

Hudgens said failure of drivers to maintain their cars properly may be part of the problem.

″If you ran out of oil, and then that coupled with some aggressive driving perhaps and maybe not changing the oil very often, you end up with a broken rod, and that’s where the connecting rod came in,″ Hudgens said. ″It is still the owner’s responsibility to check the oil.″

The Fiero went out of production in 1988 in what was ″strictly a marketing decision,″ Hudgens said.

NHTSA also opened a new preliminary evaluation into unconfirmed reports of power-steering loss in GM’s 1987 A-body cars with 4-cylinder engines.

The A-body cars are the Buick Century, Chevrolet Celebrity, Oldsmobile Ciera and Pontiac 6000.

NHTSA said it had received nine complaints, including one accident with an injury, of fluid leaking from the power-steering pressure hose, which resulted in a sudden loss of steering assistance.

That investigation involves 527,459 cars, NHTSA said.

Nine other preliminary evaluations were opened by the agency into:

-Erratic cruise control in about 10,000 1987 Chrysler Jeep Cherokees.

-Windshield wiper failure in 300,000 1988-model GM Corsica and Beretta vehicles.

-Erratic cruise control in 1988 GM Suburban and Jimmy vehicles with 5.7 liter or 7.4 liter engines.

-Excessive windshield fogging in 115,000 1986 Hyundai Excel GL vehicles.

-Gasoline splashing from the filler pipe due to alleged faulty venting in 180,000 1988 Ford Town Cars.

-Rear-brake jamming due to a faulty retaining ring in 900,000 1986-1987 GM Buick LeSabre, Oldsmobile 88 and Pontiac Bonneville.

-Jamming of the steering mechanism in 800,000 1985 and 1986 GM G-body cars. The models using the now discontinued G-body were the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and El Camino, Pontiac Grand Prix and Bonneville, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Brougham, and Buick Regal.

-Rear-axle seal failure in 576,000 1985 through 1988 GM Astro and Safari vehicles.

NHTSA also raised two preliminary evaluations to the engineering analysis level. They involved jamming of the front-seat lap belt in 394,500 1987-1988 Toyota Camry vehicles, and windshield-wiper failure in 465,500 1986 through 1988 Ford Aerostar Minivans.

The agency closed three investigations, finding there was ″no defect trend.″ The investigations were into complaints of:

-Tail-light wiring fires in 1987-1988 Chrysler Omnis.

-Air-brake emergency valve defects in the Navistar 1988 S-series school bus.

-Engine surge in 1983-1986 Ford cars with 3.8-liter and 5-liter fuel- injected engines.