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Exploding Gas Tanks Leads to Major Vehicle Recall

Exploding cars are de rigueur in action movies. But in real life, it is pretty scary. Think about the Ford Pinto and one pictures exploding gas tanks. This was used to great comic effect in the movie “Top Secret,” a parody of WWII spy movies. But there have been “32 rear-impact collisions that caused fatal fires resulting in 44 deaths in Grand Cherokees, and five accidents that resulted in seven deaths in Jeep Libertys” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Investigation

On August 23, 2010, NHTSA opened an investigation into possible fuel tank explosions during rear-end collision and impacts. This investigation covered Jeep Grand Cherokees for model years 1993 to 2004, Jeep Cherokees for model years 1993 to 2001, and Jeep Libertys for model years 2002 to 2007. This investigation started as a safety defect investigation, but was upgraded to an engineering analysis to determine if the “vehicles contain a defect that presents an unreasonable risk to safety.” NHTSA said the design of the vehicle with “the location of the gas tanks behind the rear axle of the Jeeps could make them more vulnerable to being ruptured in an accident.”

By the end of this investigation, NHTSA recommended that Chrysler issue the recall and listed the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty as defective vehicles.

But Chrysler refused to issue the recall on June 4, 2013. “Chrysler said it did not agree that the vehicles, among its most profitable models, were unsafe, adding that fire-related accidents involving the vehicles were rare and not related to a defective design.”

After discussions between Chrysler’s chief executive and the head of NHTSA, Chrysler agreed to the voluntary recall. Chrysler agreed to “put trailer hitches on some older-model Jeeps to protect them in the event of rear-end accidents.” This was in exchange for NHTSA to stop describing these models as defective.

Will this recall affect Chrysler’s bottom line?

As noted, the fix here is adding a trailer hitch, which puts more space between an impacting car and the gas tank. These parts do not have to be specifically manufactured. The parts can be pulled from a bin and “installed for a little more than $150 per vehicle retail, with labor.” Automotive News commentator Larry P. Vellequette figures that “Chrysler’s total exposure is maybe $120 million to $150 million.” While this is not an insignificant amount of money, it is still less than a year’s worth of profits for Chrysler.

Does a mandatory versus voluntary recall make a difference in safety?

According to NHTSA, over the past decade there has been, on average, 600 vehicle recalls, 20 tire recalls, and 8 child restraint recalls per year. In 2011, the most recent data available, that amounted to 15.5 million individual recalls. That is a lot of recall notices, so much so that a citizen can subscribe to receive email notifications from HNTSA for their make and model year of car. Registered owners of the Jeep models included in this recall should receive a notice about the recall and what to do to have repairs done.

If you have been injured as a result of a defective automobile, contact our personal injury attorney to help protect your rights.

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