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U.S. to probe Wrangler, Cruze on engine fire reports

By Deepa Seetharaman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators have opened two separate investigations into vehicles made by General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC due to reports of engine fires that in many cases completely engulfed the vehicles in flames.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week began probing the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact car and 2010 Jeep Wrangler SUVs. NHTSA received two complaints about the 2011 Cruze and eight reports about the 2010 Wrangler.

The fires in the two Cruze cars began while the vehicles were on the road. Both cars were destroyed, according to the complaints, which do not identify the drivers.

A driver in a 2011 Cruze Eco said the car started smoking near the engine bay. The first flame appeared soon after the driver stopped the car and within five minutes, the Cruze was "totally engulfed," the complaint said. A warning light on the dashboard illuminated only after the first sign of fire.

GM and Chrysler said they were cooperating with the government and were unaware of any injuries or fatalities stemming from the fires.

"We are conducting our own investigation and will share any findings with the government," GM spokesman Alan Adler said in an email.

"Vehicle fires are very complex and can occur for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the vehicle itself," Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa said. "Poor maintenance, improper vehicle use or installation of after-market equipment often are causes of vehicle fires."

In seven of the eight Wrangler complaints, drivers reported that the fires began while the engine was running.

In one case, a driver "saw an unknown liquid burning down to the ground from the engine area," according to the complaint. "I attempted to extinguish the fire with water, but I was unsuccessful. Within minutes, it was a total loss."

The Cruze was one of GM's best-selling models last year, having sold nearly 232,000 of them. The No.1 U.S. automaker estimates it sold 177,000 model-year 2011 Cruze cars. Chrysler, the No. 3 U.S. automaker, sold a little more than 122,000 Wranglers in 2010.

(Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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