Chrysler challenges recall over gas tank design

Chrysler
June 5, 2013 1:50:49 PM PDT
In the wake of an ABC I-Team investigation, the federal government wants Chrysler to recall about 2.7 million SUVs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the fuel tanks could leak and cause fires in rear-end crashes. It's a problem the I-Team first exposed when we broke the story nationally in 2009.

Critics say if you hit one, or you're hit while driving one, the outcome could be fatal.

However, in a rare move by an automaker, Chrysler is refusing to recall 1993 through 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees, and 2002 through 2007 Jeep Liberty models.

The consumer watchdog group the Center for Auto Safety has been petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a recall since our story aired.

It is concerned about the gas tank on Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 to 2004. Before 2005, the gas tank was put in the very back of the vehicle.

The group analyzed government data and concluded that the rear-end gas tank may have played a part in dozens of deaths in fiery crashes  -- not just in the Grand Cherokee, but also in the Jeep Liberty model years 2002 to 2007.

After a year-long investigation, the federal government agreed and says the defect may have been responsible for dozens of deaths and severe injuries.

"We are very happy about it. What it means is we are nearing the end of people dying by fire in Jeeps," said Clarence Ditlow, with the Center for Auto Safety.  "We are that much closer to a recall. We believe that after Chrysler has a little time to think about this -- see the public reaction -- which they'll do the right thing and they'll recall the Jeeps.

In an unprecedented statement released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, government investigators stated their tentative conclusions were:

  • There is a performance defect and a design defect.
  • The performance defect is that the fuel tanks installed on these vehicles are subject to failure when the vehicles are struck from the rear.
  • Such failure can result in fuel leakage, which in the presence of external ignition sources can result in fire.
  • The design defect is the placement of the fuel tanks in the position behind the axle and how they were positioned, including their height above the roadway.

Government engineers also concluded these defects present a risk to the vehicle and its drivers and passengers who have been "burned to death on rear impact crashes."

NHTSA requests that Chrysler initiate a recall on model year 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and model year 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles. They want to implement a remedy action that improves their performance in rear-impacts and crashes.

Chrysler immediately issued its opinion to today's recall request.

In a statement, the automaker says "The company does not agree with NHTSA's conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation. The subject vehicles are safe and are not defective."

NHTSA wants Chrysler to notify all Jeep Cherokee and Liberty owners from those specific model years. It says if Chrysler does not conduct the recall, it may take further action against the automaker.

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