The recall covers the 2011 and 2012 model years and affects more than 475,000 cars, which have ranked among the top-selling U.S. compacts over the past two years.
The fires can ignite when fluids, mainly oil spilled when it is being changed, drip onto a hot plastic shield below the engine, the company said Friday. GM knows of 30 fires caused by the problem. Flames engulfed and destroyed cars in two cases reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No injuries have been reported, spokesman Alan Adler said.
To eliminate the risk of fires, dealers will cut the shield to let the fluids drain to the pavement, GM said. The repairs take about 30 minutes and are free, the company said.
Cruzes with completely worn-out manual transmissions also can leak fluid onto the shields in rare cases, GM said.
The recall includes cars built from September of 2010 through May of 2012 at GM's Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant. They were sold in the U.S., Canada and Israel.
The Cruze is a strong competitor in a market where GM has fallen short in the past. The car came out in 2010 and was the top-selling compact in the U.S. from May through September last year.
But sales have started to fall as more Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics become available. Both were scarce after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan hobbled production.
Still, GM has sold more than 351,000 Cruzes in the U.S. alone, including almost 95,000 so far this year.
GM Vice President of Quality Alicia Boler-Davis said in a statement that the company apologizes for any inconvenience to its customers. GM, she said, is working to assure customers that the Cruze "is the safe and durable car they purchased."