Newest Jeep Cherokee Draws U.S. Probe as Customer Reports Fire

Auto safety regulators began a defect investigation into the latest model of the Jeep Cherokee sport-utility vehicle after an owner reported 20-foot flames shot out of its engine compartment after being parked.

The probe covers 50,415 vehicles from the 2015 model year made by the U.S. unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, according to documents posted online Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington. Opening an investigation based on a single complaint isn’t unusual if NHTSA believes the alleged defect is especially dangerous.

The vehicle owner said the Cherokee was purchased on Jan. 2 and had been driven fewer than 100 miles when noticing an “oily smell while driving” two days later, according to the complaint filed with NHTSA.

“Immediately after being parked at home, white smoke came out of hood,” the Jeep owner related. “Within seconds the entire car was engulfed in fire, flames 20 feet high. Burning oil or fuel ran down the street over 50 yards.”

“We are aware of this incident, and our investigators are cooperating fully with NHTSA’s preliminary evaluation,” Eric Mayne, a spokesman for FCA US, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Fiat unit that owns the Chrysler and Jeep brands, said in an e-mailed statement.

FCA has already been trying to complete a recall of 1.56 million older model Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee SUVs because of a potential defect related to fuel-tank design that can lead to fires when the vehicles are rear-ended. More than 1 million of those vehicles remain unfixed.

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