Back in June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched investigations of two models manufactured by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles: the Dodge Dart, whose owners had complained of brake problems, and the Jeep Wrangler, whose owners had reported issues with their airbags.
Last week, the automaker announced a recall to fix the brake problems on the 2013-2014 Dodge Dart, and the Jeep Wrangler has now inched closer to a recall of its own. NHTSA has upgraded its probe of the 2007-2012 Jeep Wrangler from a Preliminary Evaluation to an Engineering Analysis.
The Wrangler's problem appears to stem from the airbag clockspring wiring assembly on the driver's side. That component may be compromised due to moisture or dust -- conditions that could be exacerbated due to the Wrangler's removable roof. In some cases, problems with the assembly could prevent the driver's side airbag from deploying.
The investigation focuses on the following Jeep Wrangler models:
- 2007-2012 Jeep Wrangler
- 2007-2009 Jeep Wrangler 2-DR 4X4
- 2007-2009 Jeep Wrangler 4-DR 2X4
- 2007-2009 Jeep Wrangler 4-DR 4X4
- 2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara
To date, NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation has received 499 complaints about airbag assemblies on those vehicles, while FCA has received 1,703. FCA has also received 16,955 warranty claims related to the airbag clockspring wiring assembly -- though FCA notes that not all of those claims involved failures that would've kept airbags from deploying.
At least six reports say that airbags failed to deploy during a collision. Four injuries have also been linked to the problem.
A previous NHTSA investigation of similar problems in right-hand-drive Jeep Wranglers led to a recall of those vehicles from model-years 2008-2012. NHTSA notes that to fix those vehicles, "FCA redesigned the remedy clockspring to improve its durability and environmental protection and revised the design of the steering wheel to column shroud."
During the Preliminary Evaluation, NHTSA worked with FCA to gather data about the number and frequency of airbag-related issues in the Wrangler. For the Engineering Analysis, the agency will take a deeper dive to determine the scope of the problem -- in part by trying to recreate the issue under lab conditions. Depending on NHTSA's findings, the Wrangler could be subject to a formal recall. We'll keep you posted.