The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation of Chrysler's handling of two recent recalls of the Ram pickup truck. According to an agency bulletin (PDF), Chrysler is accused of "[s]low execution of recall campaigns, coupled with poor communications with the agency over potential recall remedy part problems".
The investigation focuses on Chrysler's handling of two recalls involving 971,721 vehicles, including the 2006-2008 Ram 1500, the 2003-2012 Ram 2500, and the 2003-2012 Ram 3500. The trucks were recalled because of a problem with the left tie rod ball stud, which could fracture and cause a loss of steering control.
The recalls were initiated in July 2011, but NHTSA subsequently expressed concern about the complexity of Chrysler's proposed fix, which involved replacing the trucks' tie rod assembly with an identical part. NHTSA seemed especially worried that independent shops might not have the information or tools needed to carry out the repair properly.
And so, in December 2013, Chrysler issued a new recall, which expanded the number of vehicles affected and changed the fix to replacement of the tie rod assembly with one of a completely different design.
Unfortunately, Chrysler didn't have enough of those new parts to carry out the recall quickly and efficiently. (Note: this isn't the first time that we've heard that story.) Since the beginning of this year, NHTSA has received more than 1,000 complaints from owners who've said that they were told that it would be "many months" before their trucks could be repaired.
Worse, Chrysler has failed to discuss these parts shortages with NHTSA, and the company may have even fed NHTSA some misinformation:
"During the initial months of the recalls' launch, [NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation] contacted Chrysler to confirm there were not any recall administrative issues or unusual remedy parts restrictions, and was informed there were not, and that dealers could order and receive parts through Chrysler's parts division, Mopar. As the complaints progressed, ODI received information from dealers reflecting that severe parts restriction were in place and, eventually, received a copy of a notification Mopar issued instructing dealers to immediately return the replacement tie rod assemblies for quality verification. ODI contacted Chrysler immediately upon receipt of the Mopar communication and Chrysler confirmed that, in fact, the recall campaigns had been suspended while it investigated quality concerns with the parts."
While recall seems to be back on track, Chrysler now has some 'splaining to do. NHTSA plans to evaluate Chrysler's recall process to ensure that it's timely and efficient. The agency also has concerns about Chrysler's oversight of and communications with Mopar. Depending on the results of the investigation, Chrysler could be fined, subjected to greater oversight, or hit with some other penalty.