June 18, 2012 at 9:23 AM ET
Federal safety investigators have broadly expanded an investigation into a potential fire hazard that now involves about 1.4 million Toyota cars and sport utility vehicles.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the automaker is looking into reports that the window switches on the driver’s side doors of a number of different Toyota models can overheat and catch fire. The problem has so far been linked to 161 fires and nine injuries.
The announcement of the expanded probe comes as the NHTSA also moves ahead with the probe of nearly 342,000 Chevrolet Trailblazers due to reports of door fires. And it comes days after the probe of Jeep models was expanded to cover 5 million SUVs.
The Toyota probe was initially launched in February and covered 800,000 2007 Camry sedans and RAV4 SUVs. At the time, TheDetroitBureau.com reported that due to Toyota’s practice of making widespread use of common components, it was possible that the probe would be expanded to other models.
That, in fact, is now the case, with the NHTSA targeting an additional 800,000 vehicles, including some Yaris subcompacts from the 2007 to 2009 model years, as well as the entire 2008 Highlander Hybrid SUV run. The NHTSA has also expanded the probe to cover Camry sedans produced in the 2008 and 2009 model years.
There have been some sources reporting that the switches might also be used on other Toyota products, meaning that the NHTSA could further broaden the investigation.
The probe has not yet led to a recall and it is unclear whether one will follow. If it does, that would be a potential setback for the Japanese automaker. Toyota struggled with a series of major safety issues in 2009 and 2010, though two independent panels eventually cleared the manufacturer of having electronic glitches that could cause the so-called unintended acceleration problem.
Toyota, however, isn’t the only manufacturer under investigation for fire-related problems. Last week, the NHTSA announced that a probe into potential problems with rear-mounted gas tanks has been expanded to cover more than 5 million Jeep vehicles.
And an investigation is now under way to determine the cause of a fire that consumed a garage in Texas, destroying several luxury vehicles. Local investigators initially blamed the incident on one of those vehicles, a Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, though the maker denounced that preliminary conclusion and has raised concerns that the cause of the fire was of suspicious origins.
Meanwhile, the NHTSA’s probe into reports of door fires involving the Chevy Trailblazer has now moved to the next level. A reported 341,786 vehicles are involved, with the NHTSA indicating it has received 83 consumer complaints, including 28 reports of fires.
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