Jeep owner and auto safety advocates are expressing confusion and concern over the deal Chrysler has reached with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
Earlier this month the NHTSA recommended the recall of 2.7 million Jeeps over concerns that the fuel tanks could cause fires in the event of a rear-end collision.
During negotiations with outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week, Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne agreed to the limited recall 1.5 million Jeeps. Not included in the proposed recall are approximately 1.2 million model years 1999 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees. Chrysler is arguing that these vehicles have a different design and are not prone to fires caused by rear-end accidents.
Chrysler has declined to comment on the impending recall beyond referencing the NHTSA filing.
The NHTSA routinely negotiates with automakers on the size recalls. During the early 2000s Ford was able to avert a massive recall to fix cruise control switches that were suspected of causing cabin fires by agreeing to a series of smaller actions. Those smaller actions eventually resulted in the recall of more than 10 million vehicles.
Referring to the impending Jeep recall, former NHTSA David Kelly said, “I am positive that the agency would never negotiate vehicles out of a recall if they felt they were unsafe.” Critics of the agreement, however, feel that the exempted Jeeps should be included in the recall and are questioning Chrysler’s proposed fix of adding trailer hitches to recalled 1993-1998 Grand Cherokees and Libertys to protect their gas tanks from direct impact during rear-end collisions.
In the case of 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees, Chrysler has agreed to inspect trailer hitches that have been installed by customers after the vehicles were purchased. The automaker will not install hitches on those vehicles that don’t already have one.
The NHTSA has evidence of 37 Jeep accidents and 51 fatalities caused by ruptured fuel tanks. Chrysler continues to argue that the Jeep models involved in the agreed recall are as safe as other, similar vehicles including the Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Blazer.
Center for Auto Safety director Clarence Ditlow, whose 2009 inquiry into the Jeep fuel tank problem prompted the NHTSA’s investigation, is urging the agency to test Chrysler’s proposed trailer hitch fix to see if it indeed offers any added safety.