A federal safety agency on Monday(24/07/00) upgraded its investigation of nearly 250,000 Ford Motor Co. trucks after hundreds of drivers cited problems with braking and steering.

There have been 233 complaints and 310 warranty claims involving 1999 and 2000 model Ford Super Duty F Series and Stripped Chassis with Hydroboost trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Drivers have reported losing the power assistance in steering or braking, making the trucks harder to handle. The problem has been cited in 13 crashes in which one person died and four were hurt, according to NHTSA.

Ford spokesman Mike Vaughn said the company is aware of the problem and co-operating with the investigation.

NHTSA also upgraded its investigation into 1998 and 1999 model years of the Kia Sephia and Sportage. Some drivers have reported turn signals do not work while the car is in motion.

There have been 115 complaints, 1,868 warranty claims and two lawsuits related to the problem. There are 179,302 of the vehicles on the road.

NHTSA opens safety investigations with a preliminary inquiry in which the government and manufacturer exchange paperwork that includes any complaints.

The investigation then could be upgraded to an "engineering analysis," during which engineers study parts to see if they are defective. An investigation eventually can lead to a recall.

Kia is recalling 100,137 model year 1998 and 1999 Sephias because of a NHTSA investigation into faulty fuel valves. NHTSA found that valves on some of the vehicles stopped gas from being pumped before the tank was full.

Dealers will replace the faulty valve for free.

Two cases were opened in June, according to NHTSA's monthly report. They involve 1995 to 1998 model years of the Ford Contour and Windstar and the Mercury Mystique.

NHTSA has received 28 complaints that the blower switch in the Contour and Mystique can overheat, melt or burn. Five of the complaints involved a vehicle fire. There are 878,078 of the cars on the road.

The agency also received 10 complaints from Windstar owners who said the van's front suspension coil spring broke, resulting in a collapsed suspension. In four cases, the broken coil spring punctured the tire, once while the van was going 45 to 50 mph.