DETROIT - U.S. safety regulators said on Wednesday they have opened two investigations into Chrysler Group vehicles involving possibly faulty ignition switches that can be bumped out of the "run" position, disabling airbags in the event of a crash.
The issue is similar to recalls by General Motors (IW 500/5) for faulty ignition switches, which have been linked to the deaths of at least 13 people.
About 1.25 million vehicles covering five Chrysler Group models are involved in the new investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency said. No deaths or injuries but one crash are linked to the ignition switch issue, the NHTSA said.
Chrysler, a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, had no immediate comment on Wednesday morning.
The NHTSA said it has received at least 32 complaints from consumers claiming a "driver's knee can contact the ignition key fob/chain and cause the ignition to be turned to the off or accessory position" in model year 2005 and 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs, and 2006 and 2007 Jeep Commander SUVs.
"If this occurs, the vehicle's air bags may not deploy in the event of a frontal crash," said the NHTSA, which added about 525,000 vehicles were involved in the preliminary investigation, which may lead to a recall.
The description of the problem is similar to one for GM's Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion small sedans.
The NHTSA has also opened a "recall query" to determine if Chrysler should widen a previous recall in which vehicles can be bumped out of the "run" position and keep air bags from deploying if there is a frontal crash.
In March 2011, Chrysler recalled model year 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans and Dodge Journey crossover vehicles. The NHTSA wants to determine if the vehicles for the 2008 and 2009 model years have similar problems, the automaker said. The NHTSA also wants to determine if the 2010 model year vehicles still have the problem, even after an attempt was made to fix them.
About 700,000 vehicles are involved in the possible expansion of the previous recall. About 525,000 vehicles are involved in the investigation of the Jeep vehicles.
The NHTSA investigations affect only cars registered in the United States, but if a recall results, it would likely affect models registered in Canada, Mexico and other countries.
By Bernie Woodall, Reuters / Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe
Copyright Reuters, 2014