In a recent article in the New York Times, the Center for Auto Safety announced that it is asking Chrysler to issue a recall for more than five million vehicles. The auto safety group has said the reason is that more than 100 people, including several young children, have died in Jeeps after fires caused by rear-impact collisions.
The group sent a letter to the chairman of Chrysler’s parent company, Fiat, last week and cited the deaths of three children that occurred when the Jeeps they were passengers in were hit from behind and then burst into flame. The Center for Auto Safety says the Jeep Grand Cherokees that have been involved in such accidents have two primary problems. First, the gas tank is located behind the rear axel, an area that engineers refer to as a crush zone. In 2005, Chrysler relocated the tank in its Jeeps to the front of the rear axel, though the company claims the move was not related to any concerns over vehicle fires.
The second problem cited by the group is that a fuel filler pipe is positioned so that it will rip away from the tank in a rear-impact collision. This means that gasoline would be able to leak from the tank, possibly putting vehicle occupants at risk for an explosion and even more serious fire.
Chrysler, for its part, vehemently denies that its vehicles pose a fire risk. The company issued a press release saying that the SUV is neither defective nor does it pose an “unreasonable risk” to safety in the event of a rear impact collision.
Despite these protestations, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that it launched an investigation prompted by the Center’s concerns and it found that rear-impact gas tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the Jeep Grand Cherokee than in non-Jeep vehicles. The NHTSA says it is investigating issues surrounding 2002–2007 model Jeep Libertys as well as 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, around five million vehicles in all.
The issue is no small problem according to safety experts. The Center for Auto Safety says it has reports of 157 deaths, which it says are linked to Jeep Grand Cherokee fires. The reports include rear-impact crashes as well as rollover accidents where the fuel filler pipe might have come loose.