Chrysler fire investigation expands to 5 million SUVs

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A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation started in August 2010 has been recently expanded.  The agency originally focused its investigation on 3 million Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured between 1993 and 2004, but has now added an additional 2.1 million Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Liberty SUVs produced between 1993 and 2001.

The NHTSA investigation centers around the placement of rear-mounted plastic gasoline tanks used in the three models of vehicles.  These vehicles are at an abnormally high risk of catching on fire in rear-end collisions.  So far, the NHTSA has received reports of 15 deaths and 41 injuries related to the potentially dangerous defect.  According to the government agency, there exists “a higher incidence of rear-impact, fatal fire crashes for the Jeep products.”

The investigation was launched following a complaint made by the Center for Auto Safety (CAS), a non-profit consumer group.  The CAS blamed the placement of the gas tanks in the older model Jeep SUVs.  In those vehicles, the gas tanks were located behind the rear axle, putting the tanks at greater risk of puncture in rollover accidents or multi-car rear collisions.

According to the CAS, the earlier models of the Jeep Grand Cherokee had four times the number of fatal fires than vehicles by other manufacturers, and six times the number of fatal fires reported in later models.  Although Chrysler disputes these numbers, the manufacturer moved the gas tanks in front of the rear axle and inside a protective frame beginning with the 2005 model year.

Chrysler has settled many lawsuits in connection with Jeep fires, demanding that the plaintiffs in those settlements enter into confidentiality agreements.

Earlier this week, NHTSA ordered additional Jeep Liberty vehicles added to a safety recall involving excessive corrosion of components of the rear suspension. The excessive corrosion can result in failure of the rear suspension and potentially to a crash of the vehicle.

For more information, contact the Ohio product liability attorneys at Clark, Perdue & List. 

Source: MSNBC, The Bottom Line, “Feds’ Chrysler fire probe expands to 5 million SUVs,” Paul A. Eisenstein, June 14, 2012.