The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants Chrysler to recall 2.7 million Jeeps and take them off the road until they no longer pose a risk of fire in a rear-end crash. CNNMoney reports,
“NHTSA says that the plastic gas tanks on the 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberty are too susceptible to spilling gas when hit from behind, and that can cause fires. It says it knows of at least 37 accidents that caused fires and resulted in at least 51 deaths. Safety advocates such as the Center for Auto Safety, believe that the deaths from the defect are much higher.”
Chrysler is refusing the recall, claiming the SUVs are safe and that the NHTSA’s analysis was incomplete. If they do not comply with the recall by June 18th, the NHTSA will hold a public hearing – which could result in an involuntary recall.
The gas tank in these vehicles is located behind the rear axle. Do to the SUV’s height, in an accident; some cars may slide under the Jeep’s rear bumper, striking the gas tank. At the time the Jeeps were sold, an optional steel skid plate was available – which would reduce most of the risk – but not all owners purchased it.
Long time coming
The Center for Auto Safety asked the NHTSA to investigate the problem back in 2009, which they did. They obtained a once-confidential memo dated August 24, 1978 in which details of potential issues with the gas tank placement were discussed – including the possibility of fiery deaths. Last year they expanded their investigation and released a document stating that “rear impact related tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the late model Jeep Grand Cherokees than in non-Jeep peer vehicles.”
What to do
Safety advocate Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety encourages owners of these vehicles to have a qualified automotive professional install a steel skid plate over the tank. “I would advise consumers to do this; it would eliminate the most common failure,” said Ditlow. “Just save your receipt, you could get the money back once there is a recall.”
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