Jeep Grand Cherokee Fuel Tank
On October 2, 2009, the Center for Auto Safety filed a safety defect petition for the recall of all 1993–04 Jeep Grand Cherokees with the fuel tank located behind the rear axle. At the time of the petition, CAS had identified 172 fatal fire crashes with 254 fatalities in the FARS file from calendar year 1992 through 2008. CAS identified 44 fire crashes with 64 deaths where fire was the most harmful event. In comparison, NHTSA reported a total of 38 fire crashes with 26 fatalities when it recalled the Ford Pinto.
On August 23, 2010, NHTSA granted the CAS petition and opened a defect investigation. PE10-031, shortly after the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) conducted a 50 mph rear impact crash test of a Ford Taurus into a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee that resulted in a failure to the fuel system that sprayed a fuel surrogate into the air around the Jeep. FHWA also crash tested the Ford Taurus into the back of Ford Explorers at 70 and 75 mph with no damage to the fuel system because the tank was forward of the rear axle. During the course of the investigation, Chrysler produced FARS data showing the Jeep Grand Cherokee was 21 times more likely to be involved in a fatal rear impact fire crash than the Ford Explorer, where fire was the most harmful event
CAS conducted two more crash tests of Jeep Grand Cherokees at Karco Engineering in California, which does FMVSS compliance testing for NHTSA. Both tests resulted in catastrophic failures with one being done at only 40 mph. On June 12, 2012, NHTSA upgraded PE10-031 to Engineering Evaluation 12-005 and expanded it to include the 1993–01 Jeep Cherokee and 2002–07 Jeep Liberty which had similar behind the rear axle fuel tanks.
In a May 22, 2013 letter to Fiat CEO John Elkann and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne seeking a voluntary recall, CAS pointed out that the death toll for Jeeps in EA12-005 had increased to 487 deaths in 349 fatal fire crashes with at least 157 of the deaths being due to fire. On June 13, 2013, NHTSA asked Chrysler to do a voluntary recall of the 1993–04 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 2002–07 Jeep Liberty. Chrysler initially refused but then agreed to recall the 1993–98 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002–07 Liberty. Chrysler indicated the recall remedy would be a trailer hitch while its own former Vice President for Engineering Francois Castaing testified that trailer hitches do not protect the fuel tank. On January 17, 2014, announced it would close investigation EA12-005 and allow the trailer hitch recall remedy to go forward. On that same day, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland resigned to take a job at Venable LLC, a Washington lobbying firm that represents Chrysler.
As revealed in NHTSA’s Special Order to Chrysler on July 2, 2014, the first repairs were not to take place until August 1, 2014, over 13 months after the recall. Based on NHTSA’s calculations using Chrysler production data, the agency projected that it would take 4.7 years for Chrysler to produce the repair part for the recalled Grand Cherokees, and 2.6 years for the Liberty. NHTSA’s order questioned why Chrysler waited six months to choose a supplier of the trailer hitch “fix” and two further months to purchase the hitches. NHTSA followed up on Chrysler’s slow recall response in November 2014 by issuing a consumer advisory. The advisory urged Jeep owners to fix recalled Jeeps, citing a disappointing 3% recall completion rate.
In a January 8, 2015 letter to Chrysler Chairman Sergio Marchionne, CAS pointed out that at least 20 fatal fire crashes with 29 deaths had occurred involving the Jeeps in 2013 and 2014, while NHTSA and Chrysler wrangled over the details of the recall. By February 2015, the recall completion rate had risen to only 12%.