The Center for Auto Safety (CAS), a consumer watchdog group, is calling upon U.S. regulating authorities to reopen an investigation into older Jeep SUVs made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Since a June 2013 recall, models with rear-mounted fuel tanks have caused fires that have led to fatalities, most of which have occurred in rear-impact crashes. In a crash, the plastic gas tanks can rupture, spilling gasoline and bursting into flames.
At the time of the recall, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the fire death toll from the Jeep defect stood at 270. After the recall, however, problems continued, albeit at a slower pace, and reports suggest that 19 additional fire-related fatalities occurred.
Since this number of deaths exceeds the nine deaths in the U.S. from Takata airbag inflators, the CAS and other critics have expressed concern and outrage. “The most lethal vehicle safety defect in America today is not the Takata airbag inflator,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of CAS. “It’s the fuel tank behind the rear axle in the 1993-98 Jeep Grand Cherokee, 1993-01 Cherokee and 2002-07 Liberty.” (To learn more about the Takata recall, see Toyota Recalling Another 1.6 Million Cars Over Takata Air Bag Debacle.)
According to Consumer Affairs, FCA initially refused the recall request but bargained a secret agreement with ex-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who now operates as a lobbyist for the industry. The deal involved putting a trailer hitch on the gas tank of the recalled vehicles in hopes of preventing the fires. However, a former FCA engineer said research never proved the effectiveness of the proposed fix. Moreover, reports suggest that the company hasn’t been diligent in implementing the measure, as consumers have complained dealers don’t have the necessary parts.
“This is the recall that Chrysler never wanted to do and will never do right. As far as Fiat-Chrysler is concerned Jeeps can continue to crash and burn until they are all off the road,” Ditlow said in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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