Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee Recall Impacts 1.56M Vehicles

Following intense pressure from the government and mounting public ridicule, Chrysler agreed to issue a Jeep recall on Tuesday, which will address problems that may cause some vehicles to be at risk of a fire following rear impact collisions.   

The proposed recall involves 1.56 million Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty vehicles; a little more than half of the 2.7 million vehicles that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Center for Auto Safety said should be recalled due to the rear-accident fire risk.

The initial request for the Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee recall was rejected by Chrysler earlier this month, which had maintained that there was nothing unsafe about the vehicles.

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If Chrysler had continued to resist issuing the voluntary recall, NHTSA may have taken further action against the car maker, including public hearings and eventual court battles that could have been costly to Chrysler’s reputation and bottom line.

The announcement, while not the action initially requested by the NHTSA, will affect 2002–2007 Jeep Libertys and 1993–1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees. The recall will offer factory or “Mopar” brand trailer hitches to affected vehicles. The hitches will be bolted to the frame of the SUVs to offer greater protection to the gas tank in the event of collision.

“Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles,” the company said in a statement.

Hundreds of Fatal Crashes Reported

The Center for Auto Safety sent a letter (PDF) to Chrysler in May, urging the auto maker to issue the recall due to a design defect that placed the gas tank in a “crush zone” behind the rear axle.

The consumer advocacy group indicated that the placement of the gas tank put the vehicles at risk of fire during a rear-impact collisions, citing hundreds of accounts of fatal crashes involving Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles.

Both the Center for Auto Safety and the NHTSA conducted numerous crash tests, revealing the Jeep vehicles were prone to fire following rear-impact crashes. The Center for Auto Safety accused Chrysler of making profits a higher priority than safety after the car maker refused the recall.

Chrysler has previously maintained that the vehicles pose no threat of fire hazard or safety risk and that the SUVs meet all federal safety standards. When comparing all fire crashes, including electrical, brake or power steering fluid, the auto maker had argued that their Jeep vehicles are not so bad. However, the Center for Auto Safety pointed out in their May letter that those other fires are not nearly as likely to cause death, because occupants have more time to escape the vehicle.

Approximately 1.2 million additional Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 1999 to 2004 model years were not included in the recall, but will be part of a customer service action. Letters will be issued to customers notifying them their vehicles are safe if a factory hitch is installed. For vehicles without factory hitches, they may be taken in to dealers to have them inspected for safety. Vehicles without hitches will not be offered hitches.

NHTSA officials say they are satisfied with Chrysler’s compromise Jeep recall. However the Center for Auto Safety is wary of the proposed upgrades, noting a different course of action may be more effective for consumer safety.

Their initial recommendation was to install skid plates, fuel tank check valves and longer fuel filler hoses. The Center for Auto Safety says the trailer hitch remedy should be tested before it is proposed as a solution for consumers and repairs are made.

Chrysler officials say they will begin issuing letters to affected owners in approximately a month.

Photo courtesy of halidCan! (: via Flickr Creative Commons

Image Credit: |Photo courtesy of halidCan! (: via Flickr Creative Commons

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