WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into 30,456 2014-'15 Mini Cooper, Cooper S and 2015 John Cooper Works cars to determine if parent company BMW conducted a recall in a timely manner over a failure to meet side-impact crash standards.
"NHTSA is concerned that BMW was aware or should have been aware of the non-compliance with (side-impact standards) and should have taken remedial action on the population of Mini Cooper vehicles identified in (the) recall earlier than it did," the federal safety agency said as it opened a review into the matter.
It added: "It appears from a review of NHTSA's databases that BMW may have failed to submit recall communications to NHTSA in a timely manner.
The affected Mini two-door vehicles were recalled on July 17 because they did not meet the side-impact performance standards required for rear-seat passengers.
The recall began on September 4.
Mini dealers will install additional energy-absorption material between the rear interior side panels and the exterior vehicle body to better protect rear passengers in a crash.
But federal safety regulators began pressuring BMW months ago to recall the cars.
A BMW spokesman did not respond immediately to a query from Edmunds asking for comment on the probe.
NHTSA detailed the lengthy chronology of the case as it announced the opening of a so-called "audit query" on Monday.
In mid-2014, NHTSA performed tests at 5 mph higher than required by federal law on two 2014 Mini Cooper two-door hardtop vehicles to measure spine acceleration results on a small female crash dummy. The vehicles did not pass.
"NHTSA viewed these results as indicating a potential problem and believes BMW should have been concerned with the compliance of the vehicles," NHTSA said in a statement on its website.
In October 2014, NHTSA ran the same test on a 2014 Mini Cooper two-door hardtop — and it did not pass.
BMW recalled the 2014 Mini Cooper two-door hardtop models last December. The recall included vehicles built from December 2013 to May 2014. The remedy involved installing a small foam patch in the rear door panels, NHTSA said.
In January 2015 BMW verbally committed that it would conduct a service campaign to add padding to the rear side panels of 2015 Mini Cooper two-door hardtop models, NHTSA said.
"However, BMW did not initiate the service campaign and failed to inform NHTSA of its failure to do so," the agency said.
Then in early July 2015, NHTSA tested a 2015 Mini Cooper two-door hardtop.
"BMW technicians installed a foam pad in the rear side panels of the Cooper model vehicle prior to the test, which was the modification contemplated in the service campaign," NHTSA said. "The test of the Mini with the additional padding and at the higher test weight passed the test. However, this was the only vehicle on which the service campaign was performed and thus was not representative of in-use vehicles," NHTSA added.
Bowing to pressure, BMW recalled the vehicles in July. Automakers are subject to federal fines for failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion.
Edmunds says: This investigation is part of a larger federal crackdown on automakers following record numbers of recalls. If you own one of these recalled Minis, it's time to make a service appointment with your dealer, while federal safety regulators continue their probe.