By on August 23, 2013


Issues about fire safety continue to affect the Jeep brand as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today that it is opening an investigation into 146,000 2012 model year Grand Cherokees, after receiving reports from three consumers who say that the headliners of their cars caught fire near the passenger side sun visor.

“The customers reported a burning odor and visible smoke coming from the headliner while the vehicle was being driven. This was followed by flames from the headliner itself. Customers lowered the windows in an effort to clear the smoke but this increased the fire’s intensity. All three vehicles had to be extinguished with a fire extinguisher or by the fire department as they continued to burn after the vehicle was turned off . The fire also caused the sunroof to shatter in one incident, and in another, the fire spread to the passenger seat when the burning sun visor fell onto the seat. In each case, the incident resulted in the vehicle being inoperable requiring it to be towed to the dealership.”

A Chrysler spokesman said that the company is conducting its own investigation and that it is cooperating with NHTSA:

“Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group. Accordingly, our engineers are investigating this concern while also fully supporting the Preliminary Evaluation opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the safest vehicles on the road today. It also is the most awarded SUV ever.”

The investigation into burning headliners follows a voluntary recall of over 1.5 million 1992-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys to address possible fires caused by leaking fuel tanks in the event of a collision, even though those vehicles met all applicable standards at time of manufacture. NHTSA has still not determined if it will crash test Jeep vehicles that have been recalled and retrofitted with a trailer hitch intended to protect the gas tank.

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39 Comments on “NHTSA Opens Preliminary Investigation Into Jeep Grand Cherokee Headliner Fires...”

  • avatar

    This can;t be happening, must be a dream?

    • 0 avatar

      This is no dream.

      In our model, the 2012 Overland Summit, there are all sorts of wiring harnesses in the headliner and running to the rear-view mirror, the lighting console under the rear-view, and the illuminated sun-visors.

      It’s even worse under the carpeting. Plus the battery is under the passenger seat; A real bitch to get to so there is no way to disconnect the battery or cut the battery cable in an electrical emergency.

      • 0 avatar

        The amount of wiring in a modern car is staggering. Once can only imagine what it would be like if it was designed the old fashioned way with power and switch circuits. I recall as a kid seeing a Cadillac with the driver door panel off and the huge harness going into it. Through the eyes of a kid it looked like there must have been 50 wires in the bundle.

        • 0 avatar

          I hope that in the imminent future the automakers start networking the systems in vehicles; i.e. running one cable throughout the entire vehicle with feed-throughs connected to various modules, activators and sensors.

          The technology has existed for decades, and there’s no reason why automakers couldn’t apply a system similar to Token Ring or Ethernet (Thin) and save a lot of individual copper wiring in the process.

          Today we have the excellent USB system which is even more capable and carries its own power to energize the modules.

          And because of economies of scale, I hope they replace the copper wiring with networked systems in the bread&butter vehicles first, like the best-selling Camry and the F150.

          While they’re at it, I wish Jeep would replace the Gel-cell battery under the passenger seat with a longer lasting Lithium-ion or another lightweight Lithium variant battery.

          Maybe that’s too much to hope for today. But the same could be said for 30, 40, 50 years ago when I was hoping for equipment back then that comes standard today.

          • 0 avatar

            Was that sarcastic highdesertcat? You do realize that’s how current cars work. That’s what CAN is.

          • 0 avatar

            Maybe they could get a deal on those Lithium-Ion batteries Boeing is using on the 787? They could use them to get the headline fires going …

          • 0 avatar

            MBella, I understand how current cars work, but what I have in mind is a single cable, line or FDDI hookup that provides connectivity to dispersed modules throughout the vehicle with one single line.

            It would be similar to an Ethernet (thinnet) or the old IBM Token Ring networking system — everything interconnected by a single wire, not a wiring harness.

            Right now we still have way to many individual wires to carry both signal AND current to each component or module.

            In many cases each sensor is hardwired to a controller located at the central processing unit which is generally located under the dash, on or near the firewall inside the cabin.

            The more wires, the more chance for things to go wrong.

            But if you have one single line, the number of wires is reduced significantly.

            Without getting way off topic, I saw such a system in action during a recent demonstration on UAVs or drones.

            And it is slick! Cars are a lot more simple than something that has to fly.

            th009, I understand that the Brits found that the batteries were not at fault. It was something else that caused the fires.

          • 0 avatar

            Sorry for the days after the fact comment.
            Their is a system called isis that is similar. I dont know exactly how it works but I believe it is a one wire system that can be added to if needed.Im going to do a bit of research on it.

      • 0 avatar

        Ugh, you too? I first encountered underseat batteries in the daughter’s Touareg, truly a dumbass location of last resort. To compound the PITA factor, VW thoughtfully used those mongrel 12 point fasteners they’re so fond of, thus requiring an investment in another set of tools I’ll never use again.

        • 0 avatar

          They do that for better weight distribution but it sure can be a pain in the @ss to remove that passenger seat, dig out the fiberboard covering and sound deadening material before you can get to the battery to disconnect it if you need to do live-wire electrical work.

          The manufacturers don’t want people messing with the battery. I helped someone change out his underseat battery after it had died and gone to hell when the vehicle had been in storage at the Air Force Base during the time he was serving a tour in Afghanistan.

          I ended up replacing that AGM battery with a 12v Gel-cell for an Uninterruptable Power Supply because Gel-cells are sealed and designed for indoor use (computer rooms) and do not need to be vented to the outside (although you can, by puncturing the vent-tube connection on the battery case).

          • 0 avatar

            I thought gel cells were more suited to a deep cycle application like electric vehicles or UPS’s and didn’t have the cranking amps for a typical auto starting battery.

          • 0 avatar

            The one I used was supposed to be for a 2000-watt Best UPS and it had no problem cranking over the engine.

            The only reason I opted to use it (it was brand new, just ordered and received from Apex) was because no one in my area stocked anything that was AGM. It was all special order.

            AGMs last a long time unless you let them get run down like when in storage for a year. They don’t bounce back.

            In this particular case, the guy was able to jump-start the vehicle because the AGM did not have an internal short — it just would not hold a charge for very long, so he ran on the Alternator output.

            To make a long story short, he called me for advice when he was unable to buy a replacement battery in town, all the while having to keep his car running at the various part stores he went to.

            I told him to drive to my place (26 miles away) and we’d figure out something to keep him going.

            It worked out so well that he still has that battery in his car to this very day, but he has not had to crank his engine for very long either. Just a quick crank and it fires right up.

  • avatar

    Whenever I drive our Jeep Cherokee SRT, I smell” burning” coming from the tires.

  • avatar

    “It also is the most awarded SUV ever.”
    What does that even mean these days? Can awards be rescinded?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Top of the line in utility sports,
    Unexplained headliner fires are a matter for the courts!

    Canyonero! Canyonero! (Yah!)

  • avatar

    The roof the roof is on fire

  • avatar

    “Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group.”

    That explains a lot.

  • avatar

    “…the incident resulted in the vehicle being inoperable requiring it to be towed to the dealership.”

    The service department then told the owners that repairs would not be covered under warranty as proper headliner wiring maintenance had not been performed.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Gotta love that American quality. LOL, this is just one reason why I stopped buying American nameplates long ago….

    • 0 avatar

      Well said. Need to move on to “foreign” cars. At least they only catch fire from the seat/steering wheel heaters. You know, things that are supposed to get hot?

      • 0 avatar

        Ferraris, Tatas, and the entire BMW corporate lineup (BMW, Rolls Royce, MINI) have all had fire related recalls. None are American nameplates.

        • 0 avatar

          The 2012 Grand Cherokee in question may be an American name plate, but it finds its origin in the German Daimler design and development.

          That said, Chrysler does have a well documented history of sudden unintended vehicle fires, sometimes even at very public events like parades.

          Even though I currently own one, I don’t want to keep it beyond the factory warranty period.

          • 0 avatar

            Origins at Daimler, certainly, but the most recent model was engineered purely at Chrysler, post-divorce.

          • 0 avatar

            By the most recent model I presume you to mean the 2014 model which differs from the 2011-2013 models only in transmission, headlights, dash layout and electronics.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      Imported from Detroit.

      The largest city to ever declare bankruptcy.

      Connections? You decide.

      • 0 avatar

        I wouldn’t worry about Detroit.

        Obama will bail them out right after the 2014 mid-term elections IF he is successful in regaining the House and putting Nancy Pelosi back into the driver seat.

        I’m a political Independent but I believe Obama will be successful in his current drive to restore Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

        And when he does, watch out! He’ll be able to pass anything he wants to pass during his last two years in office.

        I took a lot of flak when I wrote during 2012 that Obama had the re-election sewed up and in the bag. It was his to lose. Barring divine intervention, in 2014 Obama will handily win back the House, gain seats in the Senate AND successfully use Executive Orders until the new Congress goes into session in Jan 2015.

        The Republicans are no threat. They’re in disarray and cannot even get enough voters to turn out at the polls on election day. Which is precisely why Obama was re-elected in 2012. And that’s the problem with a two-party political system. There is no variation of the theme.

        Detroit only has to sweat it out until after the 2014 mid-term, and they can do that easily by challenging any and all motions before the bankruptcy court to delay, delay, delay.

  • avatar

    Every time Jeep starts doing well (sales) there surfaces this news headline about some recall or some hazard about driving one as if it’s some archaic machine from WWII. Who holds the NHTSA accountable anyhow?? What is their funding / true purpose? Anyone??

    • 0 avatar

      Stage 1: Denial.

      • 0 avatar

        A large bureaucracy charged with finding “problems” will find them, whether they exist or not. They’re probably helped by reading Consumer Reports and looking for low ratings. Three complaints on a car that sold 146,000 in one year seems like a very low threshold for an investigation, don’t you think?

        • 0 avatar

          Well, those are but three complaints so far.

          Maybe it will take a little longer for the insulation to wear through on other Grand Cherokees, if that turns out to be the root of the problem.

          Maybe it is just a matter of routing the wiring harnesses. Maybe the light switch inside the visor sparks or overheats.

          When I first read this story (on another site) I immediately called my wife and told her to check for heat spots in the headliner of her Overland Summit.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Kluttz

      Jeep only does well because ignorant dumbass “buy ‘murricun” red-necks buy their junk. A Jeep now made by Fiat. And dumbasses will still buy them. For that matter, dumbasses will still buy big SUVs to transport only themselves to whatever trendy function they are blindly texting and (not) driving to.

  • avatar

    Those are joints the UAW workers dropped while assembling the trucks, catching fire on loose wiring.

    Close the windows, put on some Pink Floyd, and enjoy the clambake.

  • avatar

    “The fire also caused the sunroof to shatter in one incident, and in another, the fire spread to the passenger seat when the burning sun visor fell onto the seat. In each case, the incident resulted in the vehicle being inoperable requiring it to be towed to the dealership.”

    Such detail! I love this story! It could have simply ended with the headliner burning, and the car being a write-off at that point, but it didn’t.

    Troy was on the way to Dunkin Donuts in his freshly waxed GC. Suddenly, he smelled something funny. “Somebody’s probably burning trash in their backyard. I should call the cops. That’s illegal around here.”, he thought. The smell abated briefly. He was almost to the Indian-staffed establishment when he noticed the smoke. He instinctively turned the Nickleback down as he normally did at the onset of a crisis. His next move was to waft the smoke with his hand in a haze of denial. But, it was true. His very Jeep was about to immolate. His wet flip flop moved to the brake pedal as flaming debris rained down upon the shiny leather seat that hadn’t even experienced a passenger.

    “FU$K!!”, he screamed as he picked up the flaming visor, being slightly burned by the napalm death of burning foam. He flung it out the open window. It’s burning wire harness resembled a molotov as it arched through the air to the sidewalk. He came to a stop. The flames raced aft along the headliner. His hands reached up to the ballcap on his head. He was in shock. “FU$K!!!”

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