NHTSA Closes Investigation of 2.7 Million Older Jeep Vehicles

by Jose G. “Joey” Gonzalez, Jr. on 01/31/2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has closed its investigation of a heightened fire risk due to the placement of the gasoline tank behind the rear axle of 1992-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Jeep Libertys.  The investigation ends a rare public standoff between a regulatory body and an automaker over whether a safety recall is justified.

The recall affected a 2.7 million vehicle owners. The issue centered on potentially fatal fires following rear-end crashes after 15 deaths and 41 injuries were cited as results of the gas tank placement after impact crashes. In 2013, the NHTSA asked Chrysler Group to recall the vehicles; the automaker refused in June of that year. Weeks later the automaker agreed to install trailer hitches on some of the 2.7 million SUVs for additional crash protection.

The investigation will be formally closed in the coming weeks and the NHTSA said it had “no reservations” about Chrysler’s plans to install the trailer hitch. However, Chrysler contends the trailer hitch would not protect against the high-speed, high-impact crashes that typically led to fires. 

Although the NHTSA contends this is a victory for the consumer, the perception seems to tip the scale to Chrysler Group. The group refused to recall the vehicles then offered a part that they content will not protect against a high-speed, high-impact crash such as the fatal crashes that triggered the investigation. The company’s insistence the SUVs in question met all safety standards when sold exhibits a control over the NHTSA and their ability to override an automaker in the name of consumer safety. Chrysler further defended their choice to place the fuel tank behind the rear axle and refused to accept it as a defect warranting a recall. 

The company has not begun installing the trailer hitches on the recalled SUVs. Chrysler says it has chosen a design and is preparing tooling to produce them.

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Tags: Chrysler, NHTSA

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