Auto Safety Group Calls for Jeep Grand Cherokee Recall

A consumer protection group is calling for a recall of <"">Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured from the 1993 through 2004, claiming they are susceptible to fires when hit from behind. According to a report in The New York Times, the Center for Auto Safety claims the Grand Cherokee’s fuel system is more dangerous in such a collision compared to competing vehicles built at the same time.

The Center for Auto Safety petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to recall these Jeep Grand Cherokees back in 2009. According to the Times, the group now says that crash test data, including one performed in May, show the vehicles are unsafe. Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety told the Times that the crash tests, performed on 1995, 1996 and 1999 Grand Cherokees, showed significant gasoline leaks.

The tests were conducted by Karco Engineering of Adelanto, California, which also does testing for the NHTSA.

According to the Times, the NHTSA began a preliminary investigation of the 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees last August after receiving a request from the Center for Auto Safety the year prior. At the time, the Center said it had found “172 fatal fire crashes” resulting in 254 deaths involving 1992-2008 in Grand Cherokees. In at least one case the driver of the vehicle that struck a Jeep Grand Cherokee died in a fire.

In another case, a child in a Grand Cherokee survived the crash impact, but died two days later because of injuries sustained in a fire. Witnesses to that accident said the fire occurred instantaneously, the Times said.

In response to the Center for Auto Safety’s 2009 petition, the NHTSA said a “preliminary review” of SUVs from other automakers did not indicate the Grand Cherokees “to be over-represented for post-crash fires.” But the group disagrees, and according the Times, points to two problems with the Grand Cherokee’s fuel system. The first is the location of the gas tank behind the rear axle and somewhat below the bumper, in an area safety engineers call a crush zone. The second problem is that the fuel filler pipe is positioned in a way that allows it to rip away in a rear-end collision, allowing gasoline to escape from the tank, the group says.

According to the Times, when Chrysler redesigned the Grand Cherokee for the 2005 model year, it changed the placement of the gas tank, shifting it forward from a position next to the rear bumper to a space ahead of the rear axle. This design was already being used by Grand Cherokee competitors, the Times said.

About three million Grand Cherokees built between 1993 and 2004 have the fuel system the Center for Auto Safety considers defective, according to The New York Times. Of those, about 2.2 million are still registered, and presumably on the road.

The NHTSA says it is aware of the crash test results cited by the Center for Auto Safety, but according to The New York Times, a spokesperson for the agency said its investigation of the Grand Cherokee continues, but would not comment further.

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