Nearly a year after the original petition was filed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is opening an investigation into Jeep Grand Cherokees built between 1992 and 2004 for an increased risk of fire following an accident.
The original petition for a recall investigation by the Center for Auto Safety was filed nearly 11 months ago and claimed that Jeep Grand Cherokees built between 1993 and 2004 are at a higher risk of deadly fires during rear-end collisions due to a defective fuel tank design. At the time, the center claimed that the roughly 3.04 million Grand Cherokees affected were four times more likely to experience a fatal fire than SUVs made by other companies and six times more likely than the redesigned 2005 and later models.
The pressing question, though, is over the exact numbers. The center, citing government records, claimed that between 1992 and 2008 there were 172 Jeep Grand Cherokee crashes that resulted in a fatal fire, with 254 fatalities. The center also claimed there were at least 44 crashes resulting in 64 fatalities where fire was blamed as either the primary cause of death or "most harmful event."
NHTSA, however, reviewed its records and found 44 crashes with 55 deaths wherein fire was cited as the "most harmful event." A total of 2988 people have died in Jeep Grand Cherokee crashes since 1992. The agency says that there doesn't appear to be any higher risk of deadly fire in the Grand Cherokee than any comparable vehicle. Further, the agency said that a fire post-crash "does not, by itself, establish a defect trend" and that it needs to "determine the existence of any relationship between the alleged defect and each fire or leak" before an official recall can be issued.
Which is exactly what the agency is now working on. There's no official word on when the agency will complete its investigation, but it could potentially take months or even years. There has also been no indication as to whether or not an official recall will be implemented and will depend entirely on the outcome of the investigation.
The alleged defect is in the location and protection of the fuel tank. In its original petition, the center claimed that "the fuel tank of the Grand Cherokee is plastic and extends below the rear bumper so there is nothing to protect the tank from a direct hit in a rollover or by a vehicle with a low front profile or one lowered by pre-impact braking." The center also claimed that the fuel filler neck was at risk of tearing off and spilling fuel.
Chrysler maintains that the Grand Cherokee is perfectly safe and meets all applicable safety standards.
"The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee meets or exceeds all applicable federal safety (standards) and has an excellent safety record," Chrysler spokesman Mike Palese said, noting that his company is cooperating with the investigation.
Source: The Detroit News