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Correction: Jeep recalls after all

by David Zatz on

Following the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s request for a recall, which prompted a great deal of largely incomplete media coverage for a week, Chrysler will recall the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty. The company will conduct visual inspections and, if necessary, “upgrade the rear structure” to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts. It appears, for now, that means adding a hitch, a move whose effectiveness is unknown, but is relatively easy to do and uses existing parts.

Chrysler continues to say that the Jeeps are not defective and are among the safest in their peer group, but proclaimed in their response, “Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.”

In their official response, Chrysler noted that most crashes identified by NHTSA were “extremely severe,” and “in excess of any reasonable expectation for fuel tank performance.” They pointed out that their peers would have also had fuel leakage, and that the crashes brought up by NHTSA were “far in excess” of even the stricter 2008 standards. What’s more, Jeep’s internal standard for fuel leakage following Federal tests is zero, while the test allows up to 25 ounces of leakage over 25 minutes after the test. Their response also noted that NHTSA itself had decided not to pursue a 2002 investigation into Ford cars which had a similar “problem.”

One of the accidents brought up by NHTSA involved a motorcycle sliding underneath the Grand Cherokee at around 50 mph, hitting an aftermarket hitch which was pushed into the fuel tank.  The official response points out many additional issues, which were not included in their press release.

At this time, there has been no further detail on what exactly the inspections will entail, nor what issues would require upgrades to the “rear structure” of the vehicles in question.

Federal law technically limits Chrysler’s obligation to actually pay for or reimburse a vehicle owner for any repairs determined to be needed. To qualify for a free “remedy,” as NHTSA puts it, the recalled vehicle cannot be more than 10 years old on the date the defect or noncompliance is determined. The age is calculated not by model year, but by the date that the first of the recalled vehicles was sold to a retail or fleet end user. This could mean that out of the entire group of Jeeps covered by the recall, Chrysler would be required to pay for repairs to only the 2004 Grand Cherokee (the first 2003 Grand Cherokee would have been sold in the fall of 2002) and the 2004-2007 Libertys. However, it appears that Chrysler is voluntarily covering these vehicles as well as the ones they are required to, under Safety Recalls N45 and N46.

Chrysler’s decision to comply with the NHTSA request also puts a damper on potential legal actions because neither the company nor NHTSA said that the vehicles were actually defective. NHTSA’s statement only read: “We are pleased that Chrysler has agreed to take action to protect its customers and the driving public. Consumers impacted by the safety recall and customer satisfaction campaign should have their vehicles serviced promptly once they receive notification from Chrysler. In the meantime, we will continue our investigation into this issue, pending the agency’s review of the documents provided by Chrysler in its recall action.”

The action (and NHTSA’s acceptance of it) could be seen as face-saving moves for both organizations. NHTSA did not seem to have a strong case for demanding a recall, and Chrysler needed an end to the publicity. The mitigation may or may not be effective, but it is probably unnecessary in any case, and will decisively end mass-media coverage of the story.

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