Oil dripping onto the exhaust system caused fires that destroyed at least 27 Honda CR-V SUVs from the 2003 and 2004 model years, according to an investigation conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

And why did the oil drip onto the exhaust system?

Auto service technicians improperly installed oil filters while changing the oil in the small sport utes, NHTSA and Honda concluded. The Washington Post obtained a copy of NHTSA's findings, which the agency completed July 1 but had not yet released to the public.

ConsumerAffairs.com has learned of a similar fire in a Honda Element. Maria of Cape Coral, FL, reported that her recently-purchased Element caught fire and burned on June 4, when it was slightly more than two months old. After an investigation, the company told her that "whoever did the oil change" was responsible for the fire.

Many of the incidents occurred when the vehicles were virtually brand-new, in some cases after the first oil change. Several of the CR-Vs caught fire and burned as the owner drove home after the oil change.

"We consulted with Honda. Honda concluded it was a technician's error, and they have taken steps to make sure service technicians who work on this vehicle understand that they need to be particularly diligent when they replace the oil filter," NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson was quoted as saying.

Why do the fires seem to be occurring in only the two most recent CR-V model years? The agency doesn't know and Honda says it doesn't either.