Dodge Dakota Draws Fed's Eye

Jon Cohron's Dodge Dakota is out of commission, slumped in a Dodge dealership lot with only three wheels propping it up.

"I went over an incline in the road; truck jerked to the right; I jerked back to the left and slammed on the brakes," says Cohron.

As CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, he got out of the car to find the tire and wheel underneath the front end of the truck.

Cohron just happens to be a metallurgist who specializes in metal failure analysis. He's convinced the upper ball joint on his truck, a critical component of the wheel structure, wore out prematurely.

"It was obvious because the ball joint was rusted and corroded and laying there on top of the wheel," says Cohron.

As CBS News first reported in October, the government is investigating another Dodge vehicle, the Durango, after receiving an unusually high number of complaints of premature wear on the upper ball joints. In some cases, the damage was so extreme that the entire wheel assembly broke off the vehicle.

After our story aired, CBS News was contacted not only by hundreds of Durango owners with similar problems, but many Dakota owners as well.

And now CBS News has learned that the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration has received a strikingly similar number of Dakota complaints: complaints that mirror the same trend when NHTSA launched its Durango investigation. The two vehicles use the same upper ball joints.

The lesson, for other people who might own a Dodge Dakota or a Dodge Durango, officials say, is to have your ball joints checked.

It's advice Kathy Reilly already took after seeing CBS' first report. She owns a 2000 Durango and didn't want to take any chances especially with four kids under the age of 6.

"Everything involves my vehicle, and my kids are in it ... the whole time," says Reilly.

She had the upper ball joints checked and sure enough, her mechanic discovered a loose wheel: a sign the upper ball joints were worn out and could fail.

"There's no grease fitting, no way to grease it, so it's metal on metal and the ball and socket wear out and then eventually it pops apart," says mechanic Mickey Hasseck.

Reilly sent the part to Washington for analysis as part of the government's investigation.

Cohron is footing the bill for his damages, too, after DaimlerChrysler stated it would only fix his truck if he signed this contract to keep quiet and not to sue.

"I'm not going to be swept under the rug," says Cohron.

Chrysler says it is conducting its own investigation.