UPDATE 1-U.S. regulators probe auto supplier Stabilus' struts

(Adds attempt to reach Stabilus for comment)

Oct 4 (Reuters) - U.S. auto safety regulators have opened an investigation to determine which automakers may have produced vehicles with gas-filled struts on rear liftgates that are prone to failure.

The gas struts, made by Koblenz, Germany-based auto supplier Stabilus, were involved in four previous recalls of about 276,000 minivans sold in the United States. Now, safety regulators want Stabilus to give them a list of customers who may have used the same type of gas-filled struts.

Representatives for Stabilus could not immediately be reached to comment.

The gas-filled struts help raise, lower and support liftgates on vehicles with power liftgates. They could close unexpectedly due to a leak of pressurized gas, increasing the risk of injury, according to a filing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Also, the liftgates may drop unexpectedly after reaching the fully open position.

Stabilus is a global auto parts supplier, and has U.S.-based facilities.

The four past recalls all involved minivans: the Honda Motor Co Odyssey for model years 2005, 2008 and 2009; the 2004 to 2006 Toyota Motor Corp Sienna; the 2004-2006 Ford Freestar; and the 2004-2006 Mercury Monterey.

The largest recall was for 196,222 Toyota Sienna, recalled in 20008. The Honda recall was in February of this year.

The Freestar and the Monterey recalls were made in 2006. The Freestar and Monterey minivans are no longer in production, and the Mercury brand was killed by Ford Motor Co two years ago.

An investigation is not a recall, but depending on the results of the probe, may lead to one or more of them.

(Reporting By Bernie Woodall; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and David Gregorio)


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