More than five million Jeep vehicles are under federal scrutiny after a preliminary investigation revealed an uncommonly high occurrence of fires, some of them deadly, when the vehicles were rear-ended in crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration upgraded its investigation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee from the 1993 to 2004 model years. The upgrade was prompted by a preliminary investigation that found the vehicles’ fuel tanks were uncharacteristically susceptible to rupturing in rear impacts, relative to other vehicles in the S.U.V.’s peer group.
The agency also broadened its inquiry to include two other models: Cherokee S.U.V.’s from the 1993 to 2001 model years and Liberty compact crossovers from 2002-7. The investigation applies to 5.1 million Jeep models.
As the federal inquiry has progressed, fatalities involving the Grand Cherokees under investigation have continued. In November 2011, a 1997 Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by a Mercury Mountaineer in Lake Mary, Fla., and caught fire. A passenger was trapped in the Jeep and died.
Roughly two dozen rear-end crashes resulted in fires, according to the agency.
Prompted by a petition issued by the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit safety advocacy group, the government opened an investigation, known as a Preliminary Evaluation, in August 2010. In tests commissioned by the Center for Auto Safety, the S.U.V.’s were found to be more susceptible to a tank rupture than other S.U.V.’s of the same era, like the Ford Explorer.