Statement of Ralph Nader re: Jeep Grand Cherokee Fires

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

    Milano Italy
    For Release
    January 26, 2011

Statement of Ralph Nader

    The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a modern day Pinto for soccer moms with a fuel tank located dangerously behind the rear axle in the crush zone of an impact.  In the United States alone, there have been 184 fatal fire crashes in Jeep Grand Cherokees which have resulted in 269 deaths from 1993 through 2009.  In 2005 during the merger with Daimler Benz, Chrysler moved the fuel tank forward of the rear axle to the safer location preferred by German engineers and used in Mercedes models. The unsafe location of the fuel tank is worsened by the dangerous position of the fuel filler hose.  In 1993-1998 Grand Cherokees, the filler hose goes through the frame rail and is pulled out of the fuel tank as the frame rail bends upward at the hole for the filler hose in a rear crash.  In 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees, Chrysler relocated the filler hose under a redesigned solid  frame rail and now the filler hose pulls out of the filler neck at the top rather than the fuel tank at the bottom.  The plastic fuel tank itself is vulnerable to puncture from sharp objects in the crush zone of a rear impact crash.

    The victims include mothers like Susan Kline who had just dropped her two children off at school and was hit from behind by a 2004 Toyota Sienna when she slowed her 1996 Grand Cherokee for a car stopped in front of her.  Her door jammed shut in the crash and Mrs Kline struggled unsuccessfully to get out the passenger side but was burned alive.  Four year old Cassidy Jarmon was strapped in a child seat in the rear of her mother’s 1993 Grand Cherokee when it was hit from behind by a 2001 Chevrolet Lumina.  Cassidy died of second and third degree burns over 45% of her body.  Jose Sierra died of burns when his 1986 Toyota MR2 struck the back of a 1997 Grand Cherokee on Montauk highway in NY at about 30 mph. He died of burns in the hospital the following day.  Two sister who were passengers in the Jeep were terribly burned.  In all three crashes, the striking vehicles had low front ends that submarined under the Jeep and into the fuel system structure behind the rear axle.

    Fiat was not responsible for the design of the 1993-2004; Chrysler is.  Mercedes got Chrysler to move the fuel tank to a safer location in 2005 and later models.  Now that Fiat has purchased Chrysler, it has the moral obligation to remedy the deadly fuel tank design in the Jeep Grand Cherokee before more innocent victims are burned today, not only in the United States, but also in Europe where Chrysler marketed the Grand Cherokee since 1994 in its Build Up for Export (BUX) plan.  Just like Ford recalled the Pinto, Fiat needs to recall the Grand Cherokee and remedy the fuel tank defect by installing (1) an optional frame rail reinforcement bracket on the 1993-1998 Grand Cherokee, (2) optional skid plates on all 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees that do not have them, (3) an effective check valve system to shut off the flow of gasoline if the filler hose is pulled out of the fuel tank or filler neck, and (4) additional shields to protect the fuel tank from sharp objects in the crush zone impacts. To ensure these inexpensive remedies are adequate, Fiat should conduct a public crash test program just as was done for the Ford Pinto recall.

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* For more information, contact Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety, Washington DC, 202-328-7700.