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Reports of Jeeps slipping into reverse prompt probe

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LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities have begun a preliminary probe into complaints that Jeep Grand Cherokees may have a defect that causes them to suddenly switch into reverse, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A story on the paper's Web site Tuesday night said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 48 complaints of what it calls "inadvertent rollaway in reverse" involving 1995 to 1999 Grand Cherokees, according to an agency document.

The incidents have led to 32 crashes and 14 injuries, the paper said. No deaths have been reported. Most of the incidents allegedly occurred while the sport-utility vehicles were idling with the gearshift in the "park" position.

"Obviously, we've seen a trend that's of enough concern that we've decided to open an investigation," NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson told the Times. "We don't want to prejudge it, but it warrants a closer look."

Chrysler officials did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press Tuesday night.

The investigation affects about 1.3 million of the popular SUVs. The paper said documents refer to one incident in which a motorist's Cherokee pinned him against a pickup truck, and another in which a woman's leg was crushed.

Other drivers have complained of Cherokees taking off on their own in parking lots or crossing roads and crashing into trees and buildings.

Dominick Infante, safety spokesman for DaimlerChrysler Corp., which builds the Grand Cherokee, told the Times the company is cooperating. He said the vehicle has been redesigned, and models since 1999 have a new type of transmission.

"We don't believe there is an issue with the vehicle, but we will investigate," Infante said.