By on June 18, 2013

1993-1995_Jeep_Grand_Cherokee_--_03-30-2012

Facing a looming deadline to comply with a NHTSA request to recall 2.7 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty SUVs – some of which are close to 20 years old at this point – Chrysler had decided to comply with NHTSA’s request.

While Chrysler maintains that their vehicles are safety, the auto maker has decided to inspect and, if necessary, repair the affected vehicles, as per their official statement

As a result of the agreement, Chrysler Group will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts.

The issue revolves around rear-mounted gas tanks in the two models and the question of whether or not rear-end crashes can cause vehicle fires. NHTSA has been investigating the matter since 2010 and reports a total of 51 deaths resulting from 37 rear-end crashes in both cars.

Chrysler not only maintained that the Jeeps in question were safe, but mounted a mini-PR war against NHTSA, providing data on rear end crash fatalities. The company may have been right, but public perception may have been such that Chrysler didn”t want to risk going through what Ford did during the Pinto fire controversy. The PR battle would have been unwinnable, given the complexity of the issue and the public’s general aversion to nuance and detail when it comes to any sort of discourse. We’ll have more as this story develops.

 

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44 Comments on “Chrysler Stands Down, Recalls Jeeps...”


  • avatar
    thegamper

    So basically they can “supplement” the saftey of the vehicle if it does not pass a visual inspection? I dont know if I would call that compliance in addressing the safety concern. In any event, for the number of vehicles effected and the time span they have already been on the road, I am not sure that the safety concerns of the NHTSA are well founded.

  • avatar
    mvlbr

    So when should we expect the congressional hearings.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    If the design of the fuel tank was inherently unsafe, how can this be an “inspect and repair” situation? I have a feeling each and every truck they look at is going to be remarkably similar. I’m also skeptical whether any spur of the moment structural “upgrade” is going to resolve the old vulnerabilities without creating new ones.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      In the end Chrysler had to back down because if they didn’t, the next time somebody frys in a rear-end collision, The smart plaintiff’s lawyer will introduce evidence that the NHTSA told them to fix the gas tank but they refused. That will go to the issue of gross negligence and open the door for record-setting punitive damages.

    • 0 avatar
      PBubel

      You’re working on the assumption that the design is inherently unsafe. They don’t feel it is and with the amount of fires reported out of the 2.7 million vehicles I tend to believe them.

      They’ll slap a plate on the rear or put in the optional skid-plate and call it a day. This has been, and always will be about containing the PR disaster of going against the NHTSA.

      Secondarily, was the speed of these impacts ever reported? I mean, for you to be incapacitated long enough to be burned after the accident would seem to indicate that these are pretty high speeds involved with other secondary/maybe even primary life threatening injuries involved. The reporting in this case has been pretty dismal. With little real detail offered up. (Maybe I just missed it somewhere)

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        It’s not my assumption, it’s NHTSA’s accusation. So, the fix is going to be a trailer hitch? Boy, I wish I had money in Reese; they’ll be welding these things up around the clock.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      They’re going to add a tow hitch to the back.

      Trucks that have a tow hitch will be sent on their way.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The problem in many cases IS the hitch. Shortly after the announcement I was behind a GC and immediately noticed that it had an aftermarket hitch where the receiver portion’s nice sharp square corner was a fraction of an inch from the tank so any deflection would cause it to open up the tank like a can opener.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    The huge downside for any automotive business operating in the United States now just became much larger. Think about it.

    Your vehicles pass the mandated standards. Upwards of twenty years later – you are informed you’ll be spending shed-loads of money to “upgrade” cars to a standard higher than demanded when new. “Or else.” (“Nice big business you’ve got there, isn’t it – pity if something happened to it….”)

    Who says government hasn’t become about like the mafiosa? Face it –
    the rule of law in the Untied Status of Amerika is pretty well kaput.

    I’m not even a fan of Chrysler and even less a fan of Fiat.

    But right is right and wrong is wrong. The bureaucrats are dead wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      Chrysler could encase the fuel tank in a rubber bladder, kind of like Depends for cars.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It points more to the fallibility of the accepted DOT standards than anything else. The government approves a design as safe as submitted by the manufacturer, only to find out many years later that both the standard and the design are flawed.

      Not too long ago there was a big ado about the Crown Victoria and Marquis gas tank in case of a rear collision. I had a son who was a State Cop at the time and his Crown Vic cruiser was also recalled because several cops had been roasted when their cruiser’s gas tank had exploded after a rear-end collision.

      The fix was easy enough. Steel boots were placed over the protruding parts of the suspension and frame to prevent puncturing the gas tank in case of a collision.

      Bureaucrats are always dead wrong because in any accident severe enough to puncture a gas tank there is the chance that people will get barbequed. Even the most safe vehicle can be involved in an accident so severe that fatal consequences ensue.

      That doesn’t mean it will happen to all the other vehicles. The Pinto was just a cheap, bad design. My uncle owned several of them. None of them were ever involved in any kind of accident. It is highly unlikely that of the 2.7 million Jeep vehicles recalled many of them will be in an accident that drove this recall.

      37 rear-end crashes out of 2.7 million vehicles is a minute fraction of one percent. Well within Risk Management allowances. If people died in those crashes, their number was up.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        A handful of deaths out of 2.7 million is totally acceptable, unless it’s someone in your family. Otherwise, it’s just putting price on victim’s lives. Still, Chrysler has every right to refuse the recall. It’s their party. Or funeral.

    • 0 avatar
      Onus

      The government doesn’t approve anything on vehicles. The us operates on a self certification. The manufacture certifies to the us government that what they built meets all their standards.

      Now in europe this would be a different story where they have type approval and government bodies have to inspect, test, and confirm that the item meets standards. If thats the case they get the e circle mark.

      In europe chrysler could say too bad for you. You idiots said it was safe. Not the case here.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Are the “bureaucrats” wrong? I guess it depends on how you look at the data. In term of numbers of deaths relative to the number of vehicles it sure does not seem like much of a problem (unless you are the one being BBQ’D). But in comparison to other similar vehicles, these particular models stand out as being a much higher risk. The Crown Vic cases are the ones that are skewed in my opinion as these cars are left on the side of high speed traffic all the time. I suspect that many vehicles would not fare so well with equal exposure…

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “But in comparison to other similar vehicles, these particular models stand out as being a much higher risk.”

        That’s the thing, they don’t. They are slightly higher than average, but one of Chrysler’s main points of contention with the NHTSA request was that there were many other vehicles which had higher fatality rates which weren’t getting any attention.

    • 0 avatar
      nine11c2

      You are right – the liability is now huge…and these are three, relatively unrelated models, the Cherokee was virtually all new in 1999…

      Huge implications.. so much so that low volume manufacturers may never come here. Bye bye Alfa Romeo?

  • avatar
    Dan R

    These vehicles were being built in 1993 not 1963. They should have known better. Another reason for them being the weakest of the Big Three.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      Not to mention, some are as new as 2007. Don’t know why some are saying these things are so old. Some of the Grand Cherokees, the early ones from 1993 are, but a 6 year old 2007 Liberty isn’t that old. Maybe for a turd made by Chrysler, that’s ancient, but not for any well-engineered car.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Known better than what? To design fuel tanks to well exceed the accepted design standards which weren’t changed until 2008? Let’s be realistic.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      So where exactly were they to place the tank at? The platforms at the time didn’t allow the tank to saddle over the drive shaft as they do now in the WK2.

  • avatar
    nine11c2

    Jeep has a lousy gas tank history in their bigger trucks. The Grand Wagoneer (and Cherokee Chief) had the gas tank in the frame rails under the drivers seat. It didn’t breathe well in there, causing the mounting straps for the tanks to rust and the tanks to literally fall out..

  • avatar
    Brian P

    It’s pretty likely that there was a save-face meeting between NHTSA and Chrysler higher-ups that resulted in this middle-ground. The vehicle gets recalled (NHTSA saves face, looks good in the public eye), the vehicle gets visually inspected, “Yep, same as all of them, no need to install the special contraption”, nothing gets installed on any of them (because there was never a need for it in the first place).

    I don’t see how any realistic “guard” around the fuel tank – short of installing hundreds of pounds of bomb-proofing – could be useful in the circumstances that at least some of the alleged fires involved. Note that the wording includes “low speed” – they are not addressing being hit from behind at 65 mph by a tractor-trailer – nor could they ever possibly address this in a realistic manner. The vehicles already passed a low-speed rear impact (FMVSS at the time of original manufacture) so nothing needs to be done.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      My understanding is if the vehicle is not already equipped with a cross-bar trailer hitch, it will receive one free of charge. The trailer hitch will be the guard. If the vehicle already has one, it’s good to go.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      With low speeds accidents, death should never be the topic. That’s the point. Getting hit from the rear by a tractor-trailer doing 65 MPH is a little more hazardous to your health anyways. Most car’s fuel tank are likely to rupture at that point, but the fuel may spray out quickly and mostly evacuated by the time you come to a stop. Similar to a jet plane dumping its fuel before an eminent crash.

      I don’t know if FMVSS tests cover every ‘real world’ crash scenario, but it’s possible for dangerous cars to ‘Ace’ the tests with just the right combination. Regardless, the cars still need to be fixed.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I own one of the Jeeps in question, an ”02 Grand Cherokee. It already has an outstanding recall for an airbag issue. Guess it will be a two-fer. I’m not remotely concerned, and tend to agree with Chrysler – 37 deaths in umpteen zillion miles in these things is just not cause for concern. This whole thing is just a colossal waste of resources all around.

  • avatar
    ToxicSludge

    I have to ask myself….where will this end? Does the govt have the power to order a recall on vehicles that fully met the safety standards at the time of manufacture? And go back 20 years? What’s next I wonder.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      Only a few models are 20 years old and the request for recall already happened 5 years ago (or something like that … read the TTAC articles).

      So if you don’t count the 5 years Chrysler already has been stalling, most of the cars in need for recall were fairly young at the time. the manufacturer should not get the right to delay the recall 5 years and then say it only affects old cars.

      and the fact that they “met” the safety standards of the time was certified by the manufacturer who designed and tested every nook and granny of the vehicle. the government only does superficial tests/reviews (and short of re-designing they have to rely on the manufacturer). So basically Chrysler back then optimistically claimed it meets the safety standards, which apparently wasn’t the case.

      It’s like with mileage numbers, the EPA just trusts the manufacturer claims.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I’m all for consumer safety. But this is completely BS and makes me understand why people hate government. Chrysler being forced to recall a vehicle product line that dates to 20 years ago that met all legal standards for sale and didn’t show strong statistical proof of being more problematic than an average vehicle from that time period is the height of retardedness.

    And it’s not even the “same” Chrysler with the bankruptcy. What’s going to happen next, the NHTSA gonna have a problem with 1945 Willys MB Jeeps not having airbags or anti-crush roof protection and gonna force Chrysler to do a recall on them too?

    To anyone who works at NHTSA reading this and had a hand in it…WTF were you thinking?!?

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Technically, Pintos should be recalled too. But are there 2.7 million still on the road? At this point, the ‘fix’ would cost more than Pinto are worth. For all we know, Pintos held up better than these Chryslers in low-speed rear end crashes.

      • 0 avatar
        nickoo

        we examined that case in my engineering ethics class.

        The reason the pinto case was completely justified in my opinion: An internal Ford memo was leaked that proved Ford knew that the fuel lines were in a problematic location, and they decided to forgo putting in the baffle that cost a couple of dollars to protect it because the profit vs potential death trade off was deemed acceptible.

        Actually, the numbers of collision fires and deaths of the pinto were significantly less than the honda compact of the same year on a per miles driven basis.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Yup the Civic was over twice as likely to result in firey death as the Pinto on a per capita basis. Of course the Pinto outsold the Civic about 10 to 1.

          There were multiple reasons Ford lost the lawsuit.

          #1 Ford engineers crash tested the Pinto beyond the standards they needed to and that revealed the failure point.

          #2 Ford engineers had been recently visited by Firestone sales people who showed them their latest product a bladder to line fuel tanks and told them it would cost about $9 per car.

          #3 Ford engineers sent a memo to the bean counters telling them how they could make the car far exceed the standards for only $9 per car.

          #4 The bean counters rejected the idea as it would prevent them from selling it at their desired price point with their desired profit margin.

          #5 The engineers fought back.

          #6 The lawyers were brought in and did a cost benefit analysis using the insurance industry’s valuation of a human life. Those calculations showed that the cost of adding that bladder to each vehicle would exceed the likely benefit based on the statistical likelihood of deaths and projected sales volume.

          The shield and a retainer to reduce the likelihood of the filler neck from pulling out of the tank was something that was engineered after the lawsuits and was not considered initially.

      • 0 avatar
        nine11c2

        good point Mike..

  • avatar
    wmba

    Retro liability killed the general civil aviation manufacturers, which is why 40 year old Cessnas cost so much. Lawyers led the way in “exposing” design “flaws” by engineers who “reasonably” should have “known better” in 1956, when some overpaid physician and over-confident amateur weekend pilot augered in to zero altitude driving a Beech Bonanza, Bellanca, etc., etc. in 1978.

    This Jeep case is even worse. The government is doing the same as the tort lawyers in general aviation did, only they are basically saying their very own regulations were inadequate and now the new owner of a bankrupt company should be responsible for NHTSA inadequacies that occurred before their ownership.

    Only in America.

    • 0 avatar
      Toshi

      General aviation is a particularly poor example to have chosen. See the 1994 General Aviation Revitalization Act, in particular. Congress legislated away manufacturer liability for aircraft older than 18 years, and the industry is doing fine to this day.

      • 0 avatar
        claytori

        If that turns your crank, then you should check out the limitations on liability for the owners/operators of nuclear plants. The industry would not exist if not for these laws.

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        “Particularly poor example” ,”Industry doing fine to this day”? Not like it was. Read Plane and Pilot 1970 to 1975 to see the amazing variety of GA aircraft available then.

        I am aware of GARA, it was too little too late, locking the stable door after the horses had bolted. My pal was an enthusiastic GA pilot back in the 1970s, and as time went by he went on and on about the gradual demise of manufacturers and his hobby.

        Why not read this:

        http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Aviation_Revitalization_Act

        and tell me things are just dandy. Now the lawyers are after parts suppliers rather than manufacturers. They never stop, do they, righting injustices to grieving families, ha ha.

        I suppose if the equivalent of GARA happened in the auto industry to limit liability, they would go after gas tank manufacturers. Aircraft are certified by the FAA, yet their manufacturers still got pursued by ambulance chasers.

        Did anyone sue the FAA for issuing the certifications? I cannot find any record of it. It’s like being regulated by NHTSA and the FMVSS, double jeopardy. Design the way we tell you, but be aware, we may come back years later and blame YOU for following OUR regulations.

        Utter BS.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          +1. My dad is a professional pilot and his career spanned through the ’70s. With me being in the automotive industry, he’s drawn this parallel as a warning to me as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “Only in America.”

      Well… yeah. Where else was private aircraft manufacturing ever big enough to be a target?


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