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NHTSA Upgrades Chevrolet Corvette and GM Van Investigations

WASHINGTON, December 19, 2002; The AP reported that the federal government has upgraded an investigation into the Chevrolet Corvette after receiving hundreds of complaints that the steering column can lock up and cause the driver to lose control.

Twenty-five crashes and 10 injuries have been reported in the investigation, which covers 131,981 cars from the 1997-2001 model years.

There have been 344 complaints that the steering column locks up while the car is traveling at speeds between 5 mph and 65 mph. General Motors Corp. also fielded 24,127 warranty claims about the condition.

General Motors would not comment on the investigation except to say the company is cooperating with federal officials. According to the report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the automaker maintains it is not a safety defect because there have been a small number of crashes with no serious injuries or deaths.

NHTSA begins any investigation with a preliminary inquiry where the agency and the manufacturer exchange paperwork. An investigation can be upgraded to an engineering analysis where government engineers examine parts for a possible defect, which is the stage of the Corvette investigation.

An investigation can lead to a recall, but many are dropped.

NHTSA on Thursday released a report of its investigative actions taken last month. The agency also upgraded an investigation into the seat belt latches on 324,164 GM vans.

That investigation involves 1997-1998 models of the Pontiac Transport, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Chevrolet Venture.

Eighty-four owners complained that a seat belt in the middle row failed to latch in place or stay latched. One crash was reported -- a child was allegedly ejected from his belted position during a side-impact crash and struck his baby brother, resulting in minor injuries to both children.

Also last month, NHTSA opened an investigation into the same van models after receiving seven reports that the rear axle trailing arm can break and cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle. The new investigation covers 330,000 vans from the 1997-1998 model years.

The agency also opened investigations into:

--770,000 Ford Windstar vans from the 1998-2000 model years. Thirty-eight owners say bad lugs on the wheel can cause it to come apart while the van is in motion. Three accidents were reported.

--213,000 Volkswagen Beetle cars from the 1998-2000 model years after six people complained the brake lights failed. One owner said the problem caused a crash.