US safety regulators have upgraded an investigation into electrical fires and inadvertent airbag deployment in 1997 model-year Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer compact cars, Reuters reported.

According to the news agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week said that 396,208 Escorts and Tracers were thought to be susceptible to the fires and sudden air bag deployments, which occur when water or engine coolant leaks into the air bag monitor system.

The NHTSA said that Ford, which has had numerous vehicle production and quality problems over the last two years, has reported five injuries from the fires and air bag malfunction, which can occur even when the vehicles are parked, Reuters added.

The agency originally opened its investigation into the problems in January but has now said it was reclassifying the probe as an “engineering analysis,” a step that often precedes a safety recall, Reuters said.

NHTSA has also opened an investigation into 1996-2000 model-year Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac sedans with 3.8-liter V6 engines because, Reuters reported, of engine compartment fires when the engine was started.

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No injuries have been reported in connection with the fires in the General Motors-built vehicles and the number of cars subject to a potential recall has not yet been determined, Reuters said.

Reuters also reported that the NHTSA had opened a preliminary evaluation of 300,000 1995-1998 model-year Kia Sephia compact car and Sportage SUV vehicles because the driver’s side safety belt may not secure properly.

Five injuries have been reported because of an apparent “false latch” problem with the seat belts, which can expose drivers to unrestrained movement during a crash, Reuters said.