By on September 1, 2017

2007 Jeep Liberty, Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s the same safety issue that saddled Ford’s Pinto with a notorious legacy that continues to this day, and Jeep can’t seem to put it in its rear-view.

In 2013, at the urging of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles issued a recall for 1.56 million Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee SUVs to correct a serious flaw. The vehicles’ gas tanks, located between the rear axle and bumper, had proven especially vulnerable to rupturing in rear-end collisions. A total of 26 deaths were recorded at the time of the recall.

After installing trailer hitches on each affected vehicle, FCA felt it had the issue well in hand. Unfortunately, the fires continued, as did the deaths. Now, it’s happened again.

According to Bloomberg, Vicki Hill, 58, died this week after her 2007 Jeep Liberty burst into flames after being rammed from behind by a Buick. Hill’s vehicle was stopped at an Ohio intersection at the time. The Liberty in question — among the newest of the recalled vehicles — was outfitted with a trailer hitch, FCA records show.

FCA’s recall covered Libertys built from 2002 to 2007, plus 1993-1998 Grand Cherokees. Not surprisingly, news of Hill’s death has safety advocates claiming Jeep’s recall didn’t fix a deadly problem.

The Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety, a D.C.-based nonprofit group, is renewing its calls for a new investigation into the fires. “Our fear then and our fear today remains to be that the fix is not sufficient,” CAS executive director Jason Levine told Bloomberg.

The organization began calling for an investigation in 2011 after three CAS-commissioned tests performed on mid-90s Grand Cherokees revealed a tendency for fuel tank rupture in 50-mile-per-hour rear-end collisions. A Ford Explorer of the same vintage held up after a 70 mph impact from a Ford Taurus test vehicle. Two years later, CAS presented the NHTSA with a white paper illustrating its concerns over the Grand Cherokee and Liberty.

By this time, the affected models were on their way to a recall. FCA redesigned the Liberty for the 2008 model year, and its Grand Cherokee had long since relocated its fuel tank ahead of the rear axle. However, the old vehicle remained, now outfitted with a solution CAS called “inadequate.”

Following the recall, former CAS Executive Director Clarence Ditlow told The New York Times that the vehicles remained vulnerable. In its letter to the NHTSA, the automaker claimed the center-mounted hitch would “incrementally improve the performance of certain of the subject vehicles in certain types of low-speed impacts.” Ditlow argued the tanks were still susceptible to angled rear-end crashes. Also, heavy braking could cause the impacting vehicle’s nose to dive under the Jeep’s high rear bumper.

It isn’t known how fast the Buick that hit Hill’s Liberty was travelling at the time of impact. The NHTSA, which closed its investigation in 2014, claims it is monitoring the issue and “will take action as appropriate.” CAS began calling for another federal investigation early last year.

When contacted by Bloomberg, FCA spokesman Eric Mayne issued condolences on behalf of the company. However, barring NHTSA intervention, the fire issue seems closed. “The 2007 Jeep Liberty meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety standards,” Mayne said, “including those that test fuel-system integrity in rear impacts.”

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

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60 Comments on “The Problem That Won’t Go Away: Fatal Jeep Crash Puts Spotlight on Years-old Recall...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    How fast was the colliding driver going? The Bloomberg article glosses over that, simply stating that investigators believe “excessive speed” may have been a factor.

    I mean, at some point no vehicle in existence is safe if it’s hit by something going fast enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Considering the age of the vehicle involved, why is CAS even considering it? All they’re doing is screwing the company that did NOT build the vehicle while the company that did no longer exists.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Same hypothetical argument as Old GM vs New GM, yet New GM had paid for recalls per their agreements.

      • 0 avatar
        Null Set

        When you buy a company, you assume liability for all its products, not just the ones you built yourself. Fiat, being a car company with many acquisitions under its belt, certainly knew this going in.

        What an illogical comment.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Why not blame Daimler for all the screw-ups they did before they flat abandoned Chrysler to bankruptcy?

          • 0 avatar
            Garrett

            Because when Fiat purchased Chrysler from the hedge fund that previously purchased them, they purchased everything. Including potential liabilities.

            To purchase without liabilities would have resulted in a significantly higher price.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            @Garrett: Fiat purchased Chrysler from a federal bankruptcy court. Cerberus-owned Chrysler filed for bankruptcy since it couldn’t borrow money – the banking system was frozen. Cerberus wrote off their investment and didn’t get a dime from the sale.

            As for liabilities, the bankruptcy court, after stiffing the bondholders, laid all the liabilities on “old” Chrysler, absolving the new owners of most responsibility to individuals in lawsuits.

            There’s no immunity from government agencies, so FCA has to play ball with NHTSA on recalls.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Daimler is not responsible because the sold the mess to Cerebus and that sale included all liabilities current and future. Which is the common procedure in such situations. So Daimler is free and clear.

            Cerebus on the other hand left Chrysler for dead, lost a lot of money, screwed Daimler by defaulting on the debt they had extended to close the deal.

            The Corpse of Chrysler then became a ward of the state, more specifically the Bankruptcy trustees. So as is normal in bankruptcy proceedings the trustees tried to satisfy the liabilities of the company by selling the assets. Of course they couldn’t actually find any buyers for the assets so they were given to Fiat.

          • 0 avatar
            Null Set

            You’re confusing blame with accountability. Not surprising.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            I put a lot of blame on Daimler simply because they used cheap materials on the Jeep products. Pot metal handbrake ratchets, poor quality upper and lower control arms, poorly designed brakes, front and rear… all of which FCA is having to cover out to as much as 15 years for those brakes.

    • 0 avatar
      Null Set

      Speed is not that relevant in this case. Properly designed vehicles can, and do, sustain high speed collisions without turning into molotov cocktails/death traps.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I would say that the speed IS relevant. Was the Buick doing 50 or 80? That’s a huge difference in the amount of damage given.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          If the Jeep platform were designed correctly for force of impact, speed is a lesser variable.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            That Jeep platform was designed 20 -25 years ago when the standards were significantly different. Daimler bought in about the time the Liberty was developed and abandoned the company just after the JK Wrangler was developed. Both the Liberty AND the JK Wrangler have issues that were clearly Daimler designed. Yet Daimler isn’t even being considered in any follow up to recalls, putting unnecessary expense on FCA just because they’re the current owner of the brand.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Daimler washed its hands of it, someone else owns it, lock/stock/barrel, good/bad/ugly.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            That’s the point: Daimler screwed over Chrysler and Daimler is the one who should be paying the penalty for doing so.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Yet as shown in the whitepaper, Chryler/DaimlerChrysler deliberately chose weak result sets to compare its products against. ZJ was designed by AMC in the 80s, the subsequent owners found a bug, and they did their best to glaze over it. Then in KJ development before 1998, the Liberty inherited the defect probably because the same former AMC engineers designed it too. This isn’t a standards issue, it is simply a deadly defect which carried over for two decades. The point is, the KJ platform should have been built better since it was a mid to late 90s design and this was missed for whatever reason. Chrysler played fast and loose with some of the testing to mitigate what they knew, by then, to be an edge case defect.

          • 0 avatar

            Good insight, 28-cars-later. Really good.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      The 2003-2006 Jeep Liberty is a fantastic vehicle.

      Its only downside is no-excuses bad fuel economy (5 speed automatic, 3.6 liter fuel swilling engine, and gearing “geared” for rough terrain).

      Low-range true transfer case for 4-wheel drive!

      Torque!

      Yet relatively civilized and refined on road!

      Buy with confidence!

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        Well said!

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        They’re pretty perfectly mediocre vehicles. Not horrible, but not very good either. Classically poor Chrysler rust-proofing (bottoms of doors, rockers, tailgates), classic Chrysler electrical flakiness, classic Chrysler transmission issues, classic Chrysler weak front ends. But the novelty of a true SUV in a tidy package with an available 6spd manual, and even a diesel engine option (best avoided, frankly), is not lost on my in the current landscape of not enough true rough and tumble SUVs.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            He’s basing the majority of his complaints on obsolete reputations of the brands involved.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            His statements are based in a dogmatic, cult-like adherence to a irrational love of all things Toyota and a rejection of objective evidence that vehicles such as the Liberty are more capable and durable off-road than some Toyotas costing twice as much.

            The 02-07 Liberty never had a “rust” issue, was built like a tank, had incredible torsional rigidity, great approach angle, great wheel articulation (it had independent front suspension), was the first Jeep with rack&pinion steering, a very torque-rich motor at low RPM with a true low-range transfer case, did NOT have electrical issues, and furthermore, had better build-quality and interior material quality than the “vaunted” Toyota 4-Runner.

            In fact, many Libertys were built not only in Ohio, but abroad by Magna, in places such as Valencia and Cairo.

            The 03-07 Liberty was probably the most capable Jeep (and durable Jeep) excepting the Wrangler, and had a huge chassis/body stiffness advantage over the Wrangler, and the transmission, electrical systems, and the motors were/are extremely reliable.

            I like gtem, but he’s talking directly from his a$$hole on this one, and his Toyota fanboisism is triggering his inner Kool-Aid Man, and clouding his judgment and warping his assertions on a non-Toyota (gtem <3 Toyota 4evah) vehicle drastically.

  • avatar
    JMII

    “Ditlow argued the tanks were still susceptible to angled rear-end crashes. Also, heavy braking could cause the impacting vehicle’s nose to dive under the Jeep’s high rear bumper.”

    Sounds very reasonable to me. We have all seen those crash test videos – were they always seem to ram the vehicle against some FLAT surface. But this rarely happens in the real world. My wife’s Civic was involved in a (minor) accident once and all the damage was to the headlights, front quarter panel and hood. Her bumper never hit anything because it went UNDER the vehicle in front of her: low car vs high SUV. So all that crash engineering basically did no good in the end because the two “crush” parts (bumpers) never made contact.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      when I was 16 I was involved in a “chain reaction” crash w/ 5 other vehicles. a Ram 150 (the old D-body) rear-ended a Civic. the Civic had minor visible damage, but the Ram was totaled. The Ram driver braked so hard the truck’s bumper went under the Civic’s, and the Civic’s bumper caved in the Ram’s grille and radiator.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        All of which makes a great case for reviewing the issue with ride heights and investigating how to reduce override/under-ride. Of course the industry will not do this voluntarily and in this political environment regulating that will certainly not happen, burning deaths be damned.

        As the driver of a sportscar, I am keenly aware of how vulnerable low vehicles are. But that risk for low volume sportscars is one thing you have to accept. But what about regular cars vs CUVs vs pickups. I see crashes nearly every day during my 100 mile commute. Usually the vehicle in the rear has a demolished front end if it struck a SUV or truck and the bumper of that car is usually showing minimal damage. Everything above it is demolished. The vehicle that was struck typically needs nothing more that a reset of the inertia switch for the fuel pump. I personally think this is one of the contributing factors toward the uptick in fatalities, though not nearly as much of a contributor as distracted driving – both texting and clumsy infotainment systems.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The issue is not with the location of the fuel tank between the axle and bumper – plenty of cars outside of USA have that arrangement and they are not particularly liable to explosion.

      The Jeeps of this era “featured” a plastic tailgate.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    From the whitepaper:

    “These deficiencies and failure modes were demonstrated in three crash tests in which Ford Taurus passenger cars struck the rear of Jeep Grand Cherokees. In an additional crash test conducted at the Federal Highway Administration’s testing ground, a Ford Explorer with its fuel tank located ahead of the rear axle was struck in the rear by a Ford Taurus moving at 75 mph, and sustained no fuel leakage. The Explorer was fitted with an instrumented Hybrid II dummy that showed the driver would have survived this impact. This impact involved an impact energy more than three times that of the lowest speed Jeep Grand Cherokee impact conducted for the Center for Auto Safety in which there was major fuel leakage. Indeed, the enegy [sic] level of the striking Taurus of 630,500 ft-lbs was higher than 29 of the 40 crashes cited by Chrysler without considering whether Chrysler inflated the speed of the bullet vehicle.”

    So my conclusion is, in the 90s D186 Tauri were rammed into ZJ Grand Cherokees (tauri curb weight 3,118 lb–3,472 lb, ZJ I6: 3,574 lb, V8: 3,901 lb) and another was rammed into an Explorer (either UN46 or UN105, curb weight 4189lb) at more force than nearly 75% of Chrysler’s Tauri impact tests and survived with a tank behind axle design. So the roughly 3,200lb tauri stood up against the ZJ with the similar to Liberty fuel tank design, but only about 25% of those tests were around 70mph (speed of the explorer test crash).

    Flash forward to today, a 2002 Liberty’s weight was 3,507 to 4,251, or similar to ZJ, but today CUV and truck curb weights equal or exceed the Liberty’s (i.e. 2010 Honda Pilot: 4,310 to 4,590 lbs). Combine this with an already iffy rear tank design, and at beyond 50mph speeds no tow hitch is going to save you roughly 75% of the time.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    The basic concept of the Jeep makes it unsafe. Too short, no where safe to put the fuel tank, not enough body mass to protect passengers, poor handling due to short wheelbase and 4X4 design. The only way out is to discontinue all Jeeps.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    How about we spotlight another years-old recall?

    “A New Castle church was badly damaged Thursday night when an SUV parked next to the building burst into flames and lit the structure on fire, investigators said. The church was evacuated and no one was injured, according to the State Fire Marshal’s office. The blaze was reported about 8 p.m. at the Community Vision Fellowship Church at 34 King Ave. in DuRoss Heights. The Minquas Fire Company in Newport responded.”

    “The fire was later ruled accidental and was caused by an electrical fault in the motor of a 2000 Ford Expedition parked next to the building, according to investigators. The flames spread from the vehicle to the building’s exterior, with heavy fire damage totaling $80,000, the State Fire Marshal’s office said.”

    This happened just last night. Who do we blame, the OEM or the owner?

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Can someone point to a single FCA vehicle that beats the competition when it comes to safety? Or matches it? Or doesn’t come in near the bottom?

    Every time I feel tempted by something they produce, I remind myself of the fact that safety isn’t even close to being job #1.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Or maybe it’s just the fact that you rely too much on obsolete reputations and not enough on the products themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        Or maybe I have visited the website of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

        Ram = does worse in crash tests than Ford or Chevy
        Challenger = does worse in crash tests than Mustang or Camaro

        Go to their website, pick up an FCA vehicle, and then see how it’s direct competitors perform. Find me a segment leader in safety.

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Looked up my own car, Garrett– Dodge Dart. Dart does better than Cruze, same as Focus– one grade worse than Civic on a single subtest– the small overlap. Corolla wasn’t tested for that one in 2013.

          It’s almost like you haven’t done the research you’ve used to back up your argument lol

          • 0 avatar
            volvoguyincanada

            Gotta back up Garrett here – FCA does not produce safe vehicles as per IIHS. Dodge Dart? Didn’t even get a “Good” rating. Most car companies are untrustworthy.

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            But I’m looking at the information right now. Dart received good ratings for everything except front overlap– in which it did acceptably.

            Why is this being questioned?

            http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/dodge/dart-4-door-sedan/2013

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            2013 year-model cars in which one has a higher chance of injury than in a Dodge Dart: Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series and Audi A4.

          • 0 avatar
            volvoguyincanada

            Playing devils advocate. It’s that small frontal overlap that gets me. I find the Dart styling to be actually pretty attractive for what it is though – and that push burton start, ayyooogah!

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            Pushbuttons are for pusses. Real men use FOBIK.

          • 0 avatar
            Garrett

            You obviously didn’t read the part where I said to find me a safety leader in its segment.

            Given that small overlap crashes can be so catastrophic, there’s no excuse for anything short of Good.

            Notice they also stopped making the car, but that’s a story of making of an in competitive vehicle.

            Again, when you value safety, you look elsewhere.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The Pacifica is a top safety pick + for 2017 (the only minivan I see with that rating for 2017, so there is your segment leader).

            The 200 and 500x have also been a top safety pick or top safety pick + (with “good” small overlap ratings) since their introduction.

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            I did better, Garrett– and you’re still grinding that axe.

            If showing you that a Dodge Dart can best it’s superiors in crash testing can not satisfy your query– using your own source, the IIHS– there is no satisfying your query.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    It is frustrating in the extreme when FCA, and it’s defenders, keep trotting out “It met all NHTSA standards at the time.”

    While it did meet all explicit standards, there is also an implicit requirement that a vehicle be approximately at least as safe as its peer vehicles. This prevents the NHTSA from having to spell out everything that might go wrong with a vehicle in explicit detail. (And spend years devising mind-numbingly detailed regulations, and forcing manufacturers to run even more crash tests. And if they had done this, that would just cause manufacturers to whine about regulatory compliance costs even more than they already do.)

    Similar vehicles sold at the time managed to perform the astounding feat of “not exploding under reasonable rear impacts”, and it’s not out of the question for the NHTSA to require Jeeps of that vintage to perform similarly.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      A Ford Expedition is NOT a “peer vehicle” to a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Liberty. You’re comparing a body-on-frame truck to a unibody wagon that is, at best, a large CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I am far from a FCA defender, and I can’t imagine myself in any of their products short of a CPO Gulia. That being said, there has to be a point where they are no longer liable for an old vehicle, especially if it met the safety standards at the time. How far back are they supposed to go. Can I due FCA if I get injured in an Omni GLH accident?

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Thumbs up, MBella.

      • 0 avatar
        Garrett

        Possibly.

        If they were neglegent, or behaved in a manner that demonstrated a wanton disregard for safety in relation to the vehicle at the time it was designed, manufactured or sold…and you are within the statute of limitations, then sure.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          What’s negligent in this case? I’m sure if the aforementioned Omni was rear ended in a similar way, the injuries would be way worse than the Jeep. The same thing with a solar vintage Escort, Chevette, Civic, etc… Do all manufacturers have to buy back every car that they ever sold that doesn’t meet modern standards. Where is the limit?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            25 years. Beyond that, it’s presumed you’re rolling the dice on obsolete safety standards, aging airbags, on something with likely 250K miles or more, when most anything can go wrong, wheels coming off, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “How far back are they supposed to go.”

        IIRC someone sued Ford (or tried to sue them) in the late ’90s because the ’65 Mustang they restored and gave to their 16 year old son caught fire when he was rear-ended at high speed.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      There was no rear impact test at the time. Jeep was not the only make which had plastic at the back. Ford and GM used the same arrangement on some of their vehicles.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In addition to the age question, I’m not a fan of trying to engineer fail-safe gas tanks for 50-70+ mph impacts.

    Next thing you know, FCA will be forced to retrofit millions of obsolete cars with NASCAR-rated fuel cells.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      Or maybe they could just ask Volvo to show them how to build safer cars.

      Ford made a big mistake not leveraging their ownership of Volvo to create mass market vehicles that are safer than anything else.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    This story makes me think its tinfoil hat time. Weren’t we just selling-off Jeep last week? So which company wants a lower value for Jeep, that might have some sway with these agencies/foundations?

    No company can be held liable for a vehicle’s not protecting occupants against 50-70mph rear impacts 25 years after it sold those cars. That’s lunacy.

  • avatar
    volvoguyincanada

    “A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside.

    Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.”

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