Chrysler Refuses to Issue Jeep Recall Over Fire Risk

In a rare move by an automaker, Chrysler has rejected a request made by government auto safety officials to recall 2.7 million Jeep vehicles due to a potential risk of fires following rear-impact accidents. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Chrysler, the third largest automaker in the U.S., calling for the recall of 1993–2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002–2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs. The letter cites 51 deaths as a result of rear-impact collisions in Grand Cherokees and Libertys which caused fatal fires.

Chrysler rejected the request last week, indicating that it does not agree with the government’s determination that the vehicles are unsafe and also contending that the rear-impact fires are not related to the placement of the fuel tank.

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The vehicles in question feature a fuel tank located behind the rear axle. Federal regulators and safety groups say this puts the vehicles at risk of spontaneous combustion if there is a rear-impact collision.

Another potential issue with the vehicles are leaking gas tanks that also put the SUVs at risk of fire in the event of a rear-impact crash. According to many safety engineers, the area behind the rear axle is commonly referred to as a crush zone.

The initial inquiry into the Jeep defect was prompted three years ago by a request from the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington based safety advocacy group. That request led to a three year investigation, which included tests on the vehicles by the NHTSA and the Center for Auto Safety.

A letter was issued by the Center for Auto Safety on May 22, asking Chrysler for a sweeping recall of the Jeep vehicles. The letter not only cited the 51 rear-impact incidents which resulted in fatalities, 349 other fatality collisions which included 500 deaths, but also outlined the NHTSA’s research and the Center’s own crash tests done on the vehicles.

NHTSA crash tests on the Jeep Grand Cherokee revealed major fuel damage to the SUV following a crash at 50 mph. A similar test with a Ford Explorer showed no fuel tank safety damage at a speed of 70 mph. The Center for Auto Safety conducted the same test with the Grand Cherokee at only 40 mph and the test resulted in a gas tank rupture.

It is highly unusual for an automaker to refuse a recall request by the NHTSA. Typically car companies prefer to work quietly with the regulators to reach agreements concerning voluntary recalls.

Despite Chrysler’s rejection of the recall, the NHTSA can still deem the vehicles defective and force public hearings that would release the findings of the government investigation.

The NHTSA called on Chrysler in the letter to offer a full explanation if the recall was rejected. Chrysler rejected a recall request by the NHTSA in 1998 concerning the 1995 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus sedans. The agency did not force the automaker to carry out the recall.

Chrysler said their decision against the recall was due to a belief that the NHTSA’s request was based on “incomplete analysis of the underlying data.” The automaker says it has conducted a review of 30 years of accident data and found “extremely low numbers” of rear-impact crash fires caused by ruptured gas tanks.

The Center for Auto Safety accused Chrysler of making profits a higher priority than safety after the car maker refused the recall. The NHTSA said it hopes the automaker will change its decision and “take action to protect its customers and the driving public” in the near future.

Photo courtesy of halidCan! (: via Flickr Creative Commons


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