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NHTSA demands Chrysler speed up Jeep repairs

by Bill Cawthon on

David Friedman, deputy director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sent a two-page letter to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne expressing concerns about the Chrysler Group’s current efforts to repair 2002-2007 Jeep Libertys and 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees covered under a voluntary fuel-tank recall.

In its most recent report to the agency Chrysler said it has remedied approximately 3% of the more than 1.5 million vehicles included in the recall. The company also said it had produced 400,000 of the trailer hitch assembly kits that can offer additional protection to the fuel tank in the event of a rear-end collision.

At the request of the NHTSA, Chrysler also submitted an update on its current and planned outreach activities. However, the agency now says “significantly more aggressive steps are required.”

NHTSA-Friedman-Margin-WebIn his letter, Friedman said NHTSA has received consumer complaints that indicate that Chrysler is not fully cooperating and that dealers are providing confusing information. According to Friedman, vehicle owners are being turned away by claims of a lack of parts. In some reported cases, owners are being told that their vehicles are safe to drive without the modification.

Friedman notes: “If these reports are at all accurate, the dealerships’ conduct is unacceptable.”

Friedman gives Chrysler 15 days to confirm that dealerships are providing accurate information and are performing the repairs in a timely manner. He also wants Chrysler to provide a more “robust and specific” plan to contact owners and “incentivize” them to get their vehicles repaired.

Some of the vehicles affected by the recall have rusted frames, making attachment of the trailer hitch impossible without expensive repairs. Nonetheless, the agency is demanding a plan to deal with these cases, also within 15 days.

In closing, Friedman tells Marchionne: “It is your responsibility to notify affected owners that parts are available and to ensure that dealers are effectively and accurately communicating with their customers. In the strongest possible terms I urge you and your dealers to work together to ensure that the safety risk to vehicle owners from this defect is clearly communicated and effectively and expeditiously addressed.”

It’s important to remember that Chrysler steadfastly maintained the Jeeps did not pose a safety risk to consumer but agreed, under pressure, to conduct the recall.

The letter and demands may be the result of the heat currently being applied to the NHTSA over its handling of various recalls, including the current Takata airbag fracas. Friedman came under fire from members of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday for NHTSA’s policy of allowing automakers to send out notices of “safety campaigns” rather than formal recalls, leaving customers confused over the severity of the problem.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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