DETROIT, Aug 23 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators have opened a preliminary investigation into three consumer reports that sun visors in 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs caught fire, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Friday.
Grand Cherokee is one of the best-selling models made by Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA.
A preliminary investigation will determine whether a recall of the vehicles is necessary for about 146,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs in the United States from the 2012 model year.
Three Grand Cherokee drivers said they noticed a burning odor and smoke coming from the sun visor while the SUVs were in motion.
This was followed by flames from the sun visor area, which only intensified when customers rolled down windows, NHTSA said. The fires continued to burn after the Grand Cherokee SUVs were shut off, the safety regulator said.
All three incidents occurred in the past four months, NHTSA records show.
In one incident, the fire spread to the passenger seat when the sun visor fell onto it, NHTSA said.
Chrysler said in a statement it will cooperate with safety regulators, and that its engineers are also investigating this issue.
Two months ago, Chrysler relented and agreed to recall 2.7 million older Jeep models after initially fighting a recall request from NHTSA in a dispute over crash protection for the fuel tanks.
The recall affected Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs from model years 1993 to 2004 and Jeep Liberty SUVs from 2002 to 2007.
While Chrysler stood by its assertion that the vehicles are not defective, the automaker acknowledged consumer concerns about the safety of the vehicles, which have fuel tanks situated behind the rear axle, where they can be more vulnerable, NHTSA said, to fires after rear-end collisions.