Feds Request A Recall Of 2.7M Jeep Vehicles, Chrysler Pushes Back

June 4, 2013
2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

Do some model years of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty pose a higher fire risk to their occupants in a crash? And is it because of a safety-related defect?

The federal government alleges that the answers to both questions are yes; but in a rare, public pushback to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Chrysler Group contends that the vehicles—potentially 2.7 million of them in all—are safe, and not defective.

Usually, automakers pre-emptively issue recalls well before the government orders them, and it's become very rare in recent years for an automaker to provide this kind of resistance.

“The company does not agree with NHTSA’s conclusions and does not intend to recall the vehicles cited in the investigation,” said Chrysler in an official response to a NHTSA recall letter issued this week.

Feds connect at least 49 fire deaths, many more injuries

In the letter to Chrysler, the federal agency notes that there have been “numerous fire-related deaths and injuries, fires that did not result in deaths and fuel leaks in rear impacts.”

“As discussed more fully below, ODI believes that the MY 1993-2004 Grand Cherokee and MY 2002-2007 Liberty contain defects related to motor vehicle safety,” writes the federal agency. “Accordingly, ODI requests that Chrysler initiate a safety recall of these vehicles.”

The letter outlines the checkered safety history of vehicles with fuel tanks located aft of the rear axle (Ford's Pinto is one of the most often mentioned, and it is here). It also notes that with the original 'ZJ' Grand Cherokee, the fuel tank was moved back, to be in close proximity to the rear bumper.

At issue is that the Grand Cherokee's higher ride height also makes its rear-mounted tank more vulnerable in impacts—when it's rear-ended by a passenger car, for instance.

2007 Jeep Liberty Sport

2007 Jeep Liberty Sport

Chrysler redesigned the Grand Cherokee in 1999, but this new 'WJ' model still had the tank located behind the rear axle, NHTSA notes, and that layout was continued through the 2004 model year. But in 2001, Chrysler introduced the same type of fuel-tank layout and positioning, in the Liberty, where it resided for 2002-2007 Liberty models. The automaker then moved the tank to ahead of the rear axle in 2008.

Feds: Grand Cherokee has a defect

For determining whether this would be considered a safety defect, the federal agency collected post-crash fire information for the Grand Cherokee versus its peer vehicles at the time—the General Motors S10 Blazer, Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner, Isuzu Rodeo, Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Montero, Suzuki Sidekick , and Suzuki XL-7 were mentioned.

The agency then adjusted for the number remaining on the road using Polk registration data, and found that the fatal incident rate was far higher than most of those vehicles.

NHTSA notes that it has tentatively attributed 44 deaths over 32 rear-impact fire crashes to the issue with the Grand Cherokee, while seven deaths over five crashes have been attributed to the issue in the Liberty. The letter also includes several pictures of affected vehicles, burned out or in flames, after being rear-ended by other Chrysler vehicles.

Chrysler: Fed analysis isn't correct

Chrysler, which has been sharing data with the Agency since 2010, says that the fed's analysis isn't correct. “Our analysis shows the incidents, which are the focus of this request, occur less than once for every million years of vehicle operation,” stated the automaker. “This rate is similar to comparable vehicles produced and sold during the time in question.”

The automaker meanwhile, invites concerned owners to call its customer care line at 800-334-9200.


Visit our redesigned used cars section today -- over 2 million live classified listings for sale: used trucks, used SUVs, used Toyotas, used Fords and more.

The Car Connection
See the winners »
The Car Connection
Commenting is closed for this article
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from The Car Connection. I understand that I can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.