Ford F-150 gas tank strapsThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into complaints that the metal fuel tank straps of 2.73 million Ford F-150 pickup trucks can rust and break, possibly dropping the tank and creating a fire hazard.

The investigation involves 1997 to 2001 model year F-150 pickups. Among the about 300 complaints received by the NHTSA and Ford, there have been two reports of fires from leaking fuel. In the first fire report, a fuel leak ignited but went out. However, Ford told the agency that fuel caught fire in the second incident and the fire destroyed the truck.The NHTSA said one or both of the steel straps holding the fuel tank to the truck frame could corrode and break. If one strap breaks, the tank may tilt and scrape along the road. But if both straps break, the tank could drop to the road.

Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood told The Detroit News that the company was working with federal authorities on the investigation.

Of the incident reports, 243 involved the fuel tank dropping below the truck or dragging on the ground. Another 95 incidents reported fuel leaks, and nine others included reports of sparks from the tank as it was dragged on the road.

Consumers who would like to file a complaint can call the NHTSA at (888) 327-4236 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Last month, Kia Motors Corp. recalled 58,322 of its Spectra LD cars because the metal straps holding the fuel tank in place could be corroded by road salt used to keep roads clear in winter.

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