More than 70 deaths have been linked to fuel-fed fires in crashes involving Jeep vehicles manufactured by Fiat Chrysler. At issue in those cases is the placement of the gas tank, which is vulnerable in the event of a rear-end collision, where it can rupture and catch fire. The manufacturer recalled 1.56 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty SUVs in June 2013, but only after fighting the issue for weeks. Even then, when it finally issued the recall, Fiat Chrysler convinced the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to allow it to recall a smaller number of vehicles than originally called for, saving the automaker a great deal of money at the expense of consumer safety.
The initial recall included 1.56 million 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs. The compromise deal excluded a little more than 1 million 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees, which Chrysler says are designed differently than the other earlier models. Because the newer vehicles were not part of an official recall, they are not classified as technically “defective,” giving Chrysler ammunition to defend itself in any lawsuits involving those vehicles.
Instead of moving the gas tank in front of the axle, which would be expensive and difficult, Chrysler Fiat’s remedy is to install a trailer hitch on the rear of recalled Jeeps to provide additional protection for the gas tank in the event of a rear-end crash.
Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director for The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group that has led the charge for a mandatory safety recall on all affected Jeep models with the defective gas tank placement, says the “fix” proposed by Chryster is not enough. His organization wants Chrysler to install a shield over the fuel tank, and an improved check valve system that would cut off the flow of gasoline in the event of a crash where the hose is pulled loose from the tank.
The Associated Press notes that Jeep owners who have tried to get the automaker’s recommended fix implemented have often been unable to do so because the parts are not available. As of Jan. 14, only 12 percent of the recalled Jeeps have been repaired. NHTSA has 840 reports from consumers complaining Jeep dealers do not have the trailer hitches available in order to make the fix.
Among those who tried to have their 2003 Jeep Liberty repaired was 23-year-old Kayla White. She was involved in an accident in which her vehicle was struck from behind. Her Jeep turned over onto its side and burst into flames. Kayla, who was eight months pregnant, died of burns and smoke inhalation before rescuers could arrive. Kayla took her Jeep to the dealer after being notified of the recall, but was told the parts were not available.
Sources: Montgomery Advertiser, Associated Press, RightingInjustice.com
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