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DaimlerChrysler Faces Seat Probe on 1 million Vehicles

WASHINGTON November 21, 2002; Bloomberg reports that DaimlerChrysler AG may have to recall more than 1 million Neon sedan, Durango sport utility and other vehicles to fix child safety-seat assemblies after U.S. safety regulators began an investigation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began the probe of the six models made by the company's Chrysler unit, including Neons from the 1995 to 2003 model years.

NHTSA received 17 complaints that the plate holding the seats in place broke when they were installed or removed. No injuries have been reported from use of the seats, designed for riders under 5 years or weighing less than 40 pounds (18 kilograms).

Chrysler has had at least 14 recalls this year, including one covering 1.6 million Jeep Grand Cherokees. The automaker recalled minivans three times in the 1990s for problems involving built-in child-safety seats, once to replace bolts that can break on 1996 Plymouth Voyagers and Dodge Caravans, NHTSA records show. Automakers typically pay for recalls from reserves set aside for the purpose.

"They'll have a lot of liability suits on their hands and a lot of kids are going to get hurt," if the problem isn't fixed fast, said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer group. Claybrook is a former NHTSA chief.

The other models under investigation are the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus sedans from the 1995 through 2003 model years, the Durango from 1997 through 2003, the Ram Van from 1995 through 2003 and the 2001 through 2003 PT Cruiser sedans.

Claybrook estimated the repair would cost Chrysler no more than $15 per vehicle in the event of a recall, including the cost of the part, notification of consumers and labor to install replacement equipment.

Ann Smith, a Chrysler spokeswoman, wouldn't say who made the plates for Chrysler. The Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker is still trying to determine whether additional vehicles are affected, she said.

The plate "appears to be an issue when people take them (safety seats) in and out on a daily basis," Smith said.

Congress yesterday approved legislation that would require NHTSA to set standards for child booster seats, used for children weighing 40 to 80 pounds, and sent it to President George W. Bush for his signature.

The legislation includes $5 million for the agency to evaluate the installation of built-in child safety seats on all vehicles sold in the U.S.