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Two Car Models Investigated for Possibility of Fire That Can Cause Severe Burns to Driver and Passengers

On April 1, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced an investigation into the cause of fires in the Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors’ best-selling passenger car. According to complaints made to NHTSA, there have been at least two incidents in which the small sedan has caught fire while in motion. What’s more, General Motors confirmed that it is researching warranty claims involving fires for at least 19 Cruzes. NHTSA is also investigating incidents of fire in the Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicle.

In one incident, a driver said that his 2011 Cruze Eco – a model with a special factory-installed set of options that increases the sedan’s fuel economy – caught fire when the car had about 11,000 miles on the odometer.

The driver first complained of a slight smoke smell whenever he brought the vehicle to a stop. In one instance, flames appeared out of the hood and the car was completely engulfed with fire within five minutes. The owners said that a warning light appeared on the dashboard only after the first flames appeared.

In the other case reported to NHTSA, a driver was waiting at a stop light when a driver in a nearby car started shouting that the Cruze was on fire. The vehicle also was quickly engulfed in flames.

Car fires are very dangerous because there are so many flammable liquids and other parts that can burn. Also, smoke can fill the passenger compartment of a car very quickly, to the point that the occupants might not be able to get out of the car before they are overcome by deadly smoke inhalation.

So if you are in a car and see or smell smoke coming from the car, park the car, shut if off immediately, move away from the car, and then call 911. DO NOT attempt to open the hood–this will the fire fresh air, and result in a flare-up of flames that can cause third degree burns to you or others around you!

The Cruze probe began only two months after NHTSA ended a similar investigation into fires that broke out following safety tests of the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s plug-in hybrid vehicle. GM fixed the problem by adding structural reinforcement that better protects the Volt’s battery pack from punctures or a coolant leaks if the car crashes.

But that issue affected sales of the Volt, and proved embarrassing to GM, which promotes the Volt as a technical achievement and a sign of the the firm’s rebound from bankruptcy in 2009. Having to deal with another fire issue in a different car model could hurt Chevrolet’s image. The typical Cruze buyer is “someone who is very practical, and safety will be a concern,” said one auto-market analyst.

With sales of almost 232,000 last year, the Cruze became one of the nation’s most popular small cars, outselling rivals such as the Honda Civic and Ford Focus and only narrowly trailing the Toyota Corolla. It is selling well in 2012 as new car buyers gravitate to more fuel efficient vehicles in light of rising gas prices.

The agency also has received eight reports alleging fires that originated in the engine compartment of the 2010 model year Jeep Wrangler vehicles. Seven of those complaints allege that the fire began while the car was moving.

No injuries or accidents have been reported with the fire incidents in both the Jeep and Chevrolet vehicles.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.