According to Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, it’s just a matter of time before Chrysler is forced to recall as many as 5 million Jeep SUVs built from 1993 to 2007. I was not surprised to learn that the automaker disagrees. Based on data from more than 21,000 rear-impact collisions involving Jeep Grand Cherokees and other models from those years, the automaker says the risk of gas tanks catching fire is no greater than in other SUVs. “The data demonstrates very clearly that the vehicles are no more likely to experience these rear-impact fire crashes than the peer vehicles,” according to David Dillon, Chrysler’s senior manager of regulatory affairs. But Ditlow contends there is a risk because the fuel tank is located near the back of the vehicles. The fuel tanks of Jeep Grand Cherokees built after 2004 are located in front of the rear axle. Ditlow, whose Center for Auto Safety does extremely important work, had this to say:
Just looking at the design, as a safety advocate, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize an unshielded tank, hanging below the rear bumper, is unsafe.
NHTSA said last month it’s expanding its preliminary investigation into an engineering analysis, and will also look at Jeep Cherokees from the 1993 through 2001 model years, and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007. An engineering analysis is a necessary step before the agency decides whether to require a recall. Ditlow and his group have asked NHTSA and Chrysler to recall 1993-2004 model-year Grand Cherokees since October 2009. NHTSA says on its website:
NHTSA’s assessment of the data collected during preliminary evaluation indicates that rear-impact-related tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the Jeep Grand Cherokee than in the non-Jeep peer vehicles.
Chrysler said that it is cooperating with the investigation and said it expects NHTSA will decide that a recall is unnecessary. In total, there have been more than 180 fatal crashes involving Jeep Grand Cherokees for the model years in question, Dillon said, but he claims not all of those crashes involved rear-end collisions. But Dillon did say Chrysler had found 25 fatal crashes for the Jeep Grand Cherokee that involved fires and rear-end collisions. Chrysler’s vehicles also met NHTSA’s crash standards, Dillon said, and he said they “feel confident these vehicles will be exonerated.”
If Chrysler is wrong, the company faces the prospect of dealing with a massive recall. As part of its 2009 restructuring, Chrysler assumed responsibility for safety recalls for vehicles it made before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. However, the company is shielded from any lawsuits for crashes that occurred before the bankruptcy proceedings. That’s bad news for any person who owns a vehicle from Chrysler that’s involved in a highway crash occurred that before the bankruptcy.
Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, is concerned that NHTSA’s decision to expand the number of vehicles could lead to a dismissal of the case without a recall. Kane, who is well respected in the safety field, observed:
Frequently that is done as a tactic to try and minimize the numbers. If they spread out the accidents across more vehicles … then you have low number of incidents and that is a reason that the agency can use to not order a recall.
It will be interesting to see what develops with the FDA’s investigation. We will monitor this matter and keep our readers advised of future developments.
Source: Detroit Free Press
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