Jeep Grand Cherokees Recall? Crash Tests Show Fire Risk Following Rear-End Collisions

Jeep Grand Cherokees might face a recall due to a product defect that causes the increased risk for fuel fires following rear-end collisions. The auto recall would affect 1993 to 2004 Grand Cherokee models; however, Chrysler denies the need for a Jeep recall and the National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet instituted one. Yet there are at least different three crash tests showing that Grand Cherokees are more likely to catch on fire following rear end collisions that similar SUVs manufactured during the same time period.

The various crash tests were conducted by Karco Engineering and The Federal Outdoor Impact Laboratory; Karco has previously performed crash testing for the NHTSA. One test conducted on 1995, 1996, and 1999 Grand Cherokees resulted in significant gasoline leaks following rear-impact crashes. These gasoline leaks not only put the Jeep passengers at risk, but could also pose a fire threat to the occupants of the striking vehicle.

Likewise, another investigation of Grand Cherokeesfrom 1993-2004 was conducted because of over 254 deaths resulting from “172 fatal fire crashes” involving those Grand Cherokees models. The majority of these investigations are focusing on the Grand Cherokee because of similar results showing that the Grand Cherokee’s fuel system is much more likely to pose a fire threat than those used in similar vehicles. For example, comparable Ford Explorer models were much less likely to catch fire following a rear-end collision; in crash tests, Ford Explorers’ fuel system typically remained intact following these collisions.

The campaign for the Grand Cherokee recall is being headed by the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit safety advocacy group. In its analysis of the Grand Cherokee’s safety risks, the center has identified two clear design defects with the SUV. First, the Grand Cherokee’s gas tank is located in what is referred to as a “crush zone”, meaning the area directly behind the rear axle and below the bumper. In this crush zone, the gas tank is much more likely to be crushed following a rear end collision than if moved to another area.

The second major product defect deals with that the location of the fuel filler pipe, i.e., the pipe carrying fluid from the tank to the engine, makes it especially vulnerable during a rear-end collision. Specifically, crash tests have indicated that the fuel filler pipe’s location allows it to easily rip away from its position during a rear collision, which then allows gasoline to escape the tank.

Again, these are not problems typically found in other SUVs manufactured during the same period. The center reports that both the Toyota 4Runner and Ford Explorer have their gas tanks in front of the rear axle. However, there is a possible solution to decrease the danger presented by the gas tank’s position. In some crash tests Grand Cherokees equipped with a skid plate were found to fare better during rear-end collisions.

The skid plate was installed in some Grand Cherokees as part of an optional off-road package; the plate is essentially a thick metal plate designed to protect the gas tank from rocks during off-road driving. However, its location also helps protect the gas tank from being punctured during rear-end collisions.

The center has suggested that Jeep recall its vehicles and install this skid plate to help improve the vehicles’ safety. And to protect the fuel filler pipe from leaking, that the car manufacturer install some sort of valve or other device that would prevent gas from leaking out of the pipe if it does get pulled out of position.

If the Jeep Grand Cherokee is in fact recalled, then Jeep might not actually have to pay for all of these repairs. If a vehicle is over ten years old, then in some case the automaker’s only responsibility is to notify the owner of the product defect. However, in many cases the company does end up footing the bill for the repairs rather than risk poor public relations. Over three million Grand Cherokees were manufactured between 1993 and 2004, with records indicating that around 2.2 million are still in use. If the recall does in fact go through, it could prove very costly for Jeep and Chrysler.

But again, although the center is recommending that Jeep’s Grand Cherokees be recalled, there is no definitive evidence that a NHTSA recall will happen. Chrysler maintains that its vehicles met the safety standard and are no more dangerous than any similar SUV manufactured during the same period. However, it remains watching and will be interesting to see what the NHTSA decides.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois auto design defect lawsuits for individuals and families for over 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Lake Villa, Oak Park, Burbank, Naperville, Morton Grove, and Frankfort.

Christopher Jensen. “Crash Tests Suggest Jeep Fire Risk, Safety Group Says.” The New York Times. June 15, 2011.

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