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CHRYSLER TO SWITCH MINIVAN LATCHES

Chrysler Corp. agreed Monday to voluntarily replace rear latches on 4 million minivans to allay fears that the lift-gates can pop open in rear-end crashes.

The automaker stressed that the move was not a recall and that it did not believe the latches were defective on the 1984-94 Dodge Caravans, Plymouth Voyagers and Chrysler Town & Country minivans.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a statement commending Chrysler's action, leading the No. 3 automaker to express hope that an 18-month federal investigation will end.

The agency found that 28 people have died in accidents in which lift-gates opened and passengers were ejected.

Chrysler will replace the latches for free with a stronger design, said Chris Theodore, general manager of minivan platform engineering.

The company plans to notify owners by mail, including second and subsequent owners. Notification also will be done through TV and newspaper advertisements, and dealers will replace latches on minivans brought in for unrelated service.

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