Fuel tank probe rekindles old issue

The placement of fuel tanks on passenger vehicles has changed over the past three decades, and for good reason.

Automakers gradually have repositioned the tank to an area in front of the rear axle, generally below the rear passenger seat. Statistically speaking, the tank in that location is less vulnerable in a high-speed, rear-end crash than in the previous location -- between the rear bumper and axle.

Fiery crashes of the Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat in the 1970s prompted automakers to rethink how to protect the gasoline tank.

Now fuel tanks are in the news again. Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a preliminary investigation of 3.1 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees to determine whether the plastic tank, check valve and fuel filler hose fail in rear-end crashes and rollovers, releasing gasoline that catches fire.

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