Feds Extend Investigation to 5 Million Jeeps
NHTSA is looking further into claims that the gas-tank design is responsible for fire hazard.
Although the Chrysler Group persists in saying it has no evidence of increased fire risk or vehicle defects, federal safety regulators yesterday announced that they are expanding their investigation of gas-tank fire risk in rear crashes in up to 5 million Jeeps.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has elevated its "preliminary" probe of more than 3 million Jeep Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 to 2004 to a full-scale engineering analysis. The agency also added the 1993 to 2001 Jeep Cherokee and the 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberty to its investigation, increasing the total to about 5.1 million vehicles.
This type of NHTSA investigation may or may not lead to official vehicle recalls -- it may simply be the result of an effort to discover whether there is a safety defect that causes increased risk of crashes or injuries. None of the vehicles in question has so far been recalled.
The inquiry started in September 2010 based on a petition from the Center for Auto Safety. The advocacy group contends that the location of the Jeeps’ gas tanks -- behind the rear axle and below the bumper -- makes the vehicles highly susceptible to fire during a crash. The fuel tank is situated differently in later model-year Grand Cherokees (from 2005 on), and also in Liberties from 2008 onward.
Chrysler maintains that the design is safe. The company has stated in documents that the nearly 3 million Grand Cherokees at the center of the initial inquiry have logged more than 200 billion total road miles. It also asserts that, of 180 fatal crashes involving those vehicles, 23 included rear impact and situations involving fire.
Chrysler says these data confirm that the proportion of crashes and subsequent damage was no greater than for similar vehicles with other designs. A Chrysler safety manager added that almost all of the fatal rear-impact crashes were at speeds higher than 50 mph and predicted that the government will concur the same after its examination of the issue.
But in a May 23 letter to NHTSA currently posted on the CAS website, the executive director of the group, Clarence Ditlow, pressed for a mandatory recall and immediate fix for the Jeeps. He cited two rear-end collisions in 2006 and one this year, in which two children in safety seats burned to death, and also displayed statistics he said demonstrate a higher rear-end-crash fire risk in Grand Cherokees compared with Ford Explorers.
The Chrysler Group issued a statement saying that the company is “cooperating fully with NHTSA" regarding the investigation, adding that it’s “important to note that this is still an investigation, not a recall.”
A recall on such a large scale would be an enormous financial liability for Fiat, which owns Chrysler Group. And although the vehicles under investigation were manufactured during turbulent times when Chrysler was owned by Daimler, then equity firm Cerberus, it would be a major blow to the Jeep nameplate.
Under the term of Chrysler’s 2009 government-supervised bankruptcy, the new company is responsible for safety recalls for such older vehicles, although it does have some protection from liability for lawsuits regarding the former company’s pre-bankruptcy products.
[Source: USA Today]
Considering how many of these vehicles are on the road, and have been over the past 20 years, it seems like if there was a big risk we'd have heard about it at least ten years ago.
These vehicles must have passed all applicable crash standards of the time, and like TXMX said, it's a very common place for the gas tank to be located.
As far as the comparison to the Explorer, it's not quite apples to apples there. Up untill it's current generation, the Ex has always been a full frame vehicle, whereas the Jeeps in question are all unibodIies. Furthermore, the 2002 and up Ex has had an entirely different rear suspension as the Jeeps, which will also allow for different packaging and crash performance.
And as far as the tank being located "under" the bumper on Jeeps, that's not entirely true. When veiwed from directly behind, yes the tank is visible below the bumper, but not the WHOLE tank. I'll also add that it's a large tank, the 93-98's Grand Cherokees hold 23 gallons.
Also, alot of them are equiped with rear receiver hitches, which adds some protection.
I have a '97 Grand Cherokee, which is among those in question. I have no doubts whatsoever about it's safety, and this issue is the least of my worries. Plus, between the receiver hitch and steel fuel tank skidplate on mine, I'm confident the tank is adequately protected.
With the Jeeps being singled out, that makes me very curious as to where the fuel tanks are on the 4Runner, Pathfinder, Xterra, Montero, Rodeo/Passport, etc of similar model years. Something tells me they're all pretty much i nthe same location as the Jeep.
I guess the real question here is not really "does it have a higher rate of vehicle fires?" since it most certainly will when compared to the newer designs with the gas tanks inside the frame (usually under the rear seat, sometimes under the front seat as in the Honda Fit). The real question is "does it have a higher rate of vehicle fires when compared to other vehicles with similar designs". My hunch is that it might actually have such a problem. I noted that it stated that the gas tank was under the bumper. Every other car I have seen with the gas tank behind the axle sacrifices some cargo room to mount the tank higher so its better protected by the bumper.
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