WASHINGTON – Bowing to pressure from federal safety regulators, DaimlerChrysler AG said Friday it is recalling 600,000 Dodge Durango SUVs and Dakota pickup trucks because of a defect that can cause their wheels to fall off.
The recall affects vehicles from the 2000 to 2003 model years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended the recall after a 16-month investigation revealed that the vehicles’ upper ball joints could fail. If that happens, the suspension can collapse and a wheel can fall off.
DaimlerChrysler also is extending the warranty to 10 years or 100,000 miles on the upper ball joints on an additional 400,000 Durango sport utility vehicles and Dakota pickups from model years 2000 to 2003.
On Thursday, after word spread that NHTSA was requesting a recall, DaimlerChrysler acknowledged a problem with the ball joints, but said it didn’t believe it warranted a safety recall. DaimlerChrysler says there have been no reported injuries blamed on the defect that have been substantiated by the company. There also were no injuries caused by ball-joint failures listed in NHTSA files.
Chrysler Group spokesman Max Gates said owners would hear noises before a ball joint failed.
The automaker will repair vehicles for free starting in January. It costs $750 to $1,200 to replace the ball joints, depending on the dealer and the area, according to a lawsuit filed against DaimlerChrysler by Durango owners in North Carolina.
When NHTSA opened its investigation in July 2003, there were 28 complaints about upper ball joint failure and five reports of crashes. NHTSA spokeswoman Liz Neblett couldn’t provide updated numbers Friday.
DaimlerChrysler recalled the 2002-03 Durango and Dakota pickups earlier this year because their windshield wipers were defective. That recall involved 320,188 vehicles.
While a recall of 600,000 vehicles is substantial, it’s not the largest in the industry this year. In March, General Motors Corp. announced it was recalling nearly 4 million trucks because their tailgates could fall off.