When Joe Longo bought a new 2003 Dodge Ram 2500 he figured, even with a heavy-duty pickup, normal wear and tear would cause some parts to fail. But something happened that he had never imagined.
About three years ago, he saw a crack on the dashboard and figured it was a freak occurrence. "The last thing I ever thought would go bad on a vehicle would be the dashboard," said Mr. Longo of Norwalk, Conn. "I was pretty ticked off. I thought that maybe something fell on it."
Then he searched the Internet and found other reports of disintegrating dashes. And it seemed that Chrysler was often refusing to pay for repairs.
Mr. Longo is one of about 150 owners who have filed Ram dashboard complaints with the Center for Auto Safety.
Michael Wickenden, who operates the site CarComplaints.com, which tracks owners' gripes about their cars, called the Ram dashboards "definitely one of the top problems right now, mainly in model years from 1999 to 2003, all across the Dodge Ram model line from the 1500 all the way up to the 3500."
Mr. Wickenden said he had received almost 1,700 complaints for the 1998-2007 model years, with the heaviest concentration in 2003 models. He said some people reported cracks, while others said chunks of their dashboards had fallen off.
In an e-mail, a Chrysler spokeswoman, Ann Smith, wrote that the automaker was "aware of some dashboard complaints that are generally isolated to older vehicles outside of the warranty period."
She added, "There are a variety of environmental factors which may impact the long-term performance of the dashboard, but it is difficult to identify common factors on 10-year-old vehicles."
A review of files on the Web site of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found about 200 complaints from owners of 2003 models alone. One owner wrote: "The entire dashboard was separated from the vehicle, causing the wires to shorten. As a result, the horn and exterior lighting failed intermittently. The air bag was also exposed."
Another owner described driving with the windows down and having "part of the cracked dashboard to fly up and hit my face." The writer added that "it caused me to lose control for a second."
Other Ram owners described jagged and sharp plastic edges and wondered what might happen in a crash.
Allan Kam, a safety consultant in Bethesda, Md., who was once the senior enforcement lawyer for the traffic safety administration, said the summaries suggested conditions that should be investigated as a possible safety issue.
Another former agency official, Michael Brownlee, who had headed the office of defect investigations and was associate administrator for enforcement when he retired in 1997, said an agency review was warranted by the reports of flying debris, sharp edges and concerns about whether an air bag might properly deploy.
A N.H.T.S.A. spokeswoman, Karen Aldana, said the agency "is aware of the condition and is reviewing consumer complaints" but "sees no basis on which to open a safety defect investigation." She added, "As always, we will continue to monitor the issue."
There is a precedent for a dash-related recall, said Clarence Ditlow, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group. In 1977, Ford recalled 252,000 of its 1975-77 Econoline vans because the plastic on the dash could fracture if struck and the sharp pieces "could contribute to occupant injury."
Mr. Ditlow said the situation with Rams was worse, because the dashboards were already broken.
Mr. Wickenden of CarComplaints.com said the agency's failure to require a recall was a sore point with owners. "A lot of people are frustrated because they feel it is a safety issue because of the jagged edges," he said.
Ms. Smith of Chrysler said there wasn't a safety problem because "2003-4 trucks have been on the road for a long time with a lot of customers and a lot of miles." She added, "We don't have any injury claims."
Many owners also complained that Chrysler wouldn't repair the dashes, even under warranty, calling it a cosmetic issue. "When I think of a cosmetic problem, I think of something like the color of the paint," Mr. Kam said.
Ms. Smith said "the manufacturer's warranty would have covered cracked dashboard repairs for the original owner." She said claims for out-of-warranty repairs were reviewed on a case-by-case basis "with the goal of satisfying the customer."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.