According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is ramping up an investigation of gas-tank fires associated with three popular Jeep models: the 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokee, 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and 2002-2007 model year Jeep Liberty.
NHTSA says that the investigation is related to the vehicles' fuel tanks, which sit directly behind the rear axle. Because of that placement, rear-end collisions could result in fuel leaks, and subsequently, fires.
The probe began in 2010 with an investigation of the Grand Cherokee. NHTSA says that the gas tank flaw on that vehicle is associated with 46 injuries and 15 deaths. A nonprofit consumer advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety, claims that the fatality figure could be as high as 245, based on the crash data it has reviewed.
Today's expansion of the NHTSA probe brings the total number of vehicles under investigation to a whopping 5.1 million. The next step in the review process will either be to issue a recall for the affected vehicles or to close the books on the investigation. There's no word on when a final decision might be issued.
For its part, Chrysler is cooperating fully with NHTSA's investigation, but the automaker feels comfortable that the probe will not result in a recall.
We'll keep you posted as this story progresses.