When consumers purchase a vehicle from a reputable manufacturer, they expect to receive a vehicle that is safe and will not subject the driver or his or her passengers to unnecessary dangers or risks. And, if and when a defect is reported, consumers expect a thorough investigation into the problem followed by a timely solution. When automakers and other producers of consumer products fail to both prevent recalls and address them in a timely manner, unnecessary and avoidable serious injuries and deaths can occur.
Now that we are past Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer driving season, many families will set out on road trips to amusements and other tourist attractions throughout the nation. Some families, particularly those who may have purchased the vehicle second-hand, may be unaware that their car, truck, minivan or SUV is equipped with defective and recalled parts. For other families who are aware of the recall but have been turned away from repair due to insufficient parts, every trip on the road represents an increased risk of suffering a life-altering injury or death in a defect-related auto accident. The choice to take a family trip or vacation or to stay home due to an unrepaired defective vehicle is a choice that no family should have to make.
NHTSA to Inquire into FCA’s Slow Recall Repair Times
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is now investigating consumer complaints against Fiat Chrysler regarding unusually long repair times for defective and recalled vehicles. In November 2014, the agency criticized Chrysler for its less than 3 percent recall completion rate on Jeep SUVs despite more than 2 years for the company to improve response rates. Many complaints allege that they have waited months or more than a year for promised repairs to a defective vehicle. In a recent statement released by NHTSA, the agency indicated that the agency was troubled by, “slow competition rates, slow or inadequate notifications to consumers, faulty remedies, improper actions by dealers,” and other unspecified problems. The NHTSA’s Administrator, Mark Rosekind, characterized the 20 recalls as an “unreasonable risk to safety.” Furthermore Mr. Rosekind also publicly questioned whether FCA has met its legal obligations in regards to these recalls with low completion rates.
The agency also requested FCA to provide additional information about its recall process and recall performance. Like in the Takata matter where sanctions were imposed, NHTSA has threatened to impose sanctions of $7,000 a day if the automaker fails to fully comply with the request.
An Overview of Recent FCA Recalls for Defective Vehicles
Like most other major auto manufacturers releasing an array of vehicle types, models, and trim versions defects can be introduced into one particular vehicle type or across the company’s entire product line. However, the FCA recalls are unique in the amount of time it is taking for resolution. Some of the vehicle recalls with unacceptable repair and response rates include:
Fire and fuel leakage defect — 1993 to 1998, 2002 to 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles have an unacceptable risk of fuel leakage. This fuel leakage is known to increase the risk of fire in a rear-end collision. In a controversial fix, FCA has agreed to install a trailer hitch. The company claims that the hitch will provide additional and sufficient fuel tank protection.
Unintended side curtain airbag deployment – Three-quarters of a million Jeep Grand Cherokees (2002 – 2004), Dodge Vipers (2003 & 2004), and other vehicles were recalled after it was discovered that the side airbags could deploy without warning. Also affected by this issue and identified in a separate recall are Grand Cherokees from 2014 and 2015.
Ignition switch defect – There are three recalls that address this particular issue which grew out of the General Motors ignition switch recall. This defect can cause the ignition switch to move out of the “on” position while the vehicle is being operated. 700,000 Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans identified by 2008 to 2010 model years have been recalled due to ignition switch problems. Furthermore, more than 640,000 vehicles, the 2006 & 2007 Jeep Commander and Jeep Grand Cherokee, were also recalled. 2009 to 2010 Dodge Journey vehicles are also identified as affected vehicles.
Left tie rod assembly defect – There are three separate recalls for this defect. More than 700,000 vehicles in the Dodge Ram line produced from 2003 to 2008 have problems with a left-tie rod assembly. Affected models include the Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500. Later recalls also identified problems with Ram 4500 and 5500 vehicles produced with model years 208 through 2012. This defect can cause a loss of control increasing the odds of an accident. Owners of these vehicles should consult with NHTSA’s recall lookup tool to see if your particular vehicle is affected.
Defective vanity mirror light – While most people would expect a safety defect to be related to the systems involved in driving or impact dampening following a crash, even a seemingly minor electrical fault can have serious consequences. 2011 to 2014 Dodge Durango are affected by a defective vanity mirror light that can catch fire.
Defective alternators – This defective alternator issue affected a range of vehicles and could cause the vehicle to stall unexpectedly while in operation. Dodge Challengers, Dodge Durangos, and Dodge Challengers are impacted.
Fuse box recall – Like the vanity mirror issue, a problem in any part of a vehicle’s electrical system can cause severe problems including a vehicle fire, unexpected operation, or loss of power to essential systems. In this case, the fuse box problem affecting the Durango and Jeep Cherokee models could cause an unexpected engine stall.
Rear axle problems – More than a quarter-million SUVs produced under the Dodge and Chrysler brands have a problem with the rear axle. This defect can cause a driver to lose control of his or her vehicle. When it was first announced back in December 2013, the recall identified the 2009 Chevy Aspen, 2009 Dodge Durango, the 2009 to 2011 Dodge Dakota, and the 2009 to 2012 Ram 1500.
Defective manual transmission – Many people associate a manual transmission with more control over the vehicle and reduced likelihood of a mechanical or software defect. However, for some Dodge Dakota, Ram 1500, Ram 2500, and Ram 3500 (2006-2007), a defective clutch can fail.
Defective parking lock – In a relatively recent recall, a little more than 25,000 Chrysler 200 vehicles, model year 2015, had a rollaway risk due to a confusing gear shift where the vehicle could roll away while parked.
While other recent and minor recalls of less than 20,000 vehicles also remain incomplete, the foregoing provides a broad overview of the defects and recalls that FCA has grappled with in recent years. FCA was required to provide additional information to NHTSA by June 1, 2015, at 5 p.m. While CEO Sergio Marchionne indicated that he thought the company would comply with NHTSA’s request, it is unclear if the company has satisfied this obligation at the time of this writing.
Parts Suppliers Can Reduce Automaker’s Control Over Recalls
It is no secret that automakers do not manufacture every part that goes into a vehicle in-house. In many instances, the automaker will rely on multiple parts suppliers to manufacture component pieces of the vehicle. Perhaps the most widely and infamously known instances of this practice are the Delphi- produced ignition switches involved in the GM ignition switch recall and the defective airbag inflators and propellants at the center of the Takata airbag recall.
In particular, the Takata airbag recall illustrates the potential unintended consequences that can occur when a single parts manufacturer comes to dominate a particular niche. For at least this one problem, FCA cannot shoulder the blame for the delay because, for more than a decade, Takata denied that any problem existed with its airbags. The company then refused to cooperate with investigators which is likely to have further delayed any action by regulators and automakers. Finally, once Takata admitted that there was a deadly defect in its airbags, the problem of producing sufficient replacement parts arose. While Takata has increased production, it could take years before the company and other can produce sufficient supply to address all affected vehicles.
Furthermore, new revelations that many replacement airbags will have to be replaced a second time may further delay the recall process. Additionally, it may be more difficult to convince consumers to come in for a repair the second time because they believe that the issue has already been corrected. The replacement airbags were produced using the “batwing” design that Takata now believes to be connected to the defect. In short, Takata’s continued troubles addressing this problem may be the only thing that takes some of the heat off of FCA’s issues also addressing recalls.
Motorist Safety Suffers as Defects Linger
Regardless of FCA’s compliance with this request, it is the American driver that continues to be inconvenienced and exposed to a heightened accident risk. One complaint to NHTSA indicated that a New York dealership was informing customers of a six-month wait for repairs for the fire and fuel leakage defect. When questioned about the information by a reporter from the Detroit Free Press, the dealership’s response may largely absolve the dealership, but raises troubling questions about the recall process. The service advisor stated that it was about a year from the time the recall was announced to the time that the dealership received any parts to repair it. During that time, customer requests for repair accumulated. The service advisor stated that the dealership is now performing about two repairs a day, but he admitted that it is going to take months to address the backlog.
Since a long-term car rental or simply staying home is not an option for most people, many will be forced to commute to and from work, bring and pick-up their children to school, and go about their daily routine for months knowing that their vehicle could be impacted by the defect at any time. Furthermore, individuals and families must weigh the relative risks of taking their recalled and unrepaired vehicle on a road trip or other family trip. While the risk of death or catastrophic injury is still relatively small, it will vary and create an increased risk over a non-defective vehicle this type. Furthermore, the difficulty of assessing the risk of this nature combined with the potentially deadly consequences of an automobile accident forms the basis for an impossible choice that no parent or individual should be faced with for months on end or for more than a year.
Philadelphia Lawyers Fight for Those Injured by Defective Vehicles
If you have been seriously injured in a car, truck or SUV accident due to a vehicle defect or other reasons you may face significant medical bills, lost wages and other damages. For more than 34 years the defective product lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm have fought aggressively and strategically to hold the responsible parties financially accountable for the serious injuries and wrongful deaths their actions cause. To schedule a free and confidential consultation contact our firm at (215) 246-9000.