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Jeeps' Fuel Tanks Prompt Wider NHTSA Investigation

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated on Flag Day, June 14, 2012, that it plans to expand the investigation of an engineering analysis of the safety of the Jeep Grand Cherokees built from 1993 through 2001 and the Jeep Liberty from 2002 through 2007. Approximately 5 Million Jeep SUVs have been built by Chrysler from 1993 to 2007.

The executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow, representing that group, asked NHTSA and Chrysler to recall the 1993-2004 model years Grand Cherokees in October 2009. According to the NHTSA’s website, "rear-impact-related tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the Jeep Grant Cherokee than in the non-Jeep peer vehicles."

Chrysler will cooperate with the probe and expects NHTSA to decide that a recall may not be necessary. This worries Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies who says, expanding the investigation could lead to a dismissal of the case without a recall—he notes, possibly an effort by Chrysler to reduce the numbers of vehicles recalled.

According to the Detroit Freepress article, there have been more than 180 fatal crashes involving Jeep Grant Cherokees for the model years in question… although not all involved rear-end collisions." Chrysler noted that twenty-five fatal crashes had occurred for the Jeep Grand Cherokee which did, in fact, involve rear-end collisions and fires after crashes involving high speeds – greater than 50 mph.

As an aside, and as a trial attorney (and former 1997 Grand Cherokee owner) who has litigated (non-Jeep) fuel system cases, I have often looked at the rear of these Jeeps in traffic, viewing the gas tank just below the rear bumper, and wondered why that design was not a potential fire and safety hazard in a rear-impact crash. Common sense, which I recognize does not always go hand-in-hand with safe product design, seems to point towards a potential for that fuel tank to be compromised in a rear-impact crash, which may lead to fuel escaping from the tank. Any vehicle design engineer would say that one of the primary safety goals of a fuel system is to keep fuel IN THE TANK and fuel system. This particular Jeep design, with the tank partially exposed in rear impacts, seems to invite just the opposite. Perhaps an engineer out there can tell me why I am wrong. I am not sure how NHTSA, or Jeep, can fix this problem, other than warning owners about the risk so that they can be informed. I would keep a fire extinguisher on board if I owned one of these Jeeps.

For more information on automobile safety and recalls, see: http://www.nhtsa.gov

1 Comment

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  1. Don Pittman says:
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    I have a jeep grand cherokee 04 model and wondering about the radiator fan relay,I have had two put in and finally had to bypass it using a toggle switch,to manually turn the fan on an off.