NHTSA Probes 2015 Jeep Cherokees after SUV Went Up in Flames

Jan 16, 2015 02:00 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

In a move reflecting its tough new stance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today announced an investigation into 50,000 Jeep Cherokees that are at severe risk of fire.

Affecting Cherokee sport utility vehicles from the 2015 model year, the investigation comes after an incident where a new Jeep Cherokee was covered in flames and the loss was reported to the NHTSA, according to the Detroit News.

The report described the Cherokee, which caught fire in an incident that resulted in a total loss of the vehicle, as "engulfed in flames approximately 20 feet high within seconds of parking the vehicle. The complaint alleged white smoke coming from under the hood immediately after parking the vehicle and while the ignition is off."

No one was hurt in the Jan. 4 incident, which occurred when the vehicle had been driven less than 100 miles. The owner reported noticing an oil smell, and two San Diego-area TV news stations posted videos of the fire.

"I was actually very afraid for my life," owner Margareta Knoos told CBS station KFMB-TV

The News report noted that NHTSA's newly aggressive policy is to open an investigation the same day a consumer complaint is formally received.

Chrysler is aware of the incident and cooperating with federal regulators, spokesman Eric Mayne told the News.

NHTSA has long been urging Chrysler to repair Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee vehicles that have been connected with 62 deaths, several of which were in the last 18 months.

More than 1 million Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee vehicles with gas tanks that can explode and catch fire during rear-end crashes have not yet been repaired, and at least six people have died in five highway crashes since the recall in June 2013, Bloomberg reported last week.

"They've got to get their act in gear," David Friedman told reporters in November while serving as NHTSA's acting administrator. "They've got to make sure that they are getting those parts in the hands of consumers. They've told us that they have nearly 400,000 parts, and yet we're getting complaints from consumers saying the dealers are telling them there aren't any parts."

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