On this blog, we have written about the Fiat Chrysler (FCA) fuel tank problems that have plagued an array of models of its ever-popular Jeep line. In one fairly recent post in March of 2015, we speculated that the Jeep fuel tank fire issue may be the next safety crisis. Fires due to a rear fuel tank placement are nothing new in the auto industry. An array of vehicles, including the infamous Pinto, suffered from this issue. Unfortunately, it seems that automakers have not prioritized the health and safety of its customers despite decades of experience with this issue. In fact, despite a previous recall and an opportunity to correct the problem, FCA issues a fix that many observers opined was insufficient and unlikely to be effective. One safety advocate now claims that he has the data to back up these predictions.
Rear Fuel Tank Placement Without Adequate Tank Protection Can Result in Fire-Related Deaths
The gas tank defect is particularly heartbreaking because it can transform a mild to moderate crash into a deadly one. For already severe crashes, the potential for a fuel tank fed fire only complicates an already difficult situation for first responders.
Consider a relatively minor rear-end collision. In most vehicles, the occupants may suffer bumps and bruises and perhaps whiplash injuries, but by and large they would likely to escape the crash with only mild to moderate injuries. Now, in a vehicle with a rear-placed fuel tank lacking adequate protection, the same relatively minor collision could trigger a drastically different result. In some cases, the fuel tank is ruptured in the crash resulting in a rapidly forming inferno that consumes the vehicle and anything or anyone inside.
Last year we wrote about the heartbreaking story of 4-year-old Remington Walden. Remington was strapped into his car seat in the back seat of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. In a rear-end crash, the Jeep’s fuel tank was ruptured and ignited. Remington who was strapped into the car seat was unable to escape. Medical examiners claim that Remington struggled for nearly a full minute in the fire before he was killed. Unfortunately, children and any individual who is incapacitated in the crash or otherwise unable to escape the vehicle quickly are particularly likely to suffer severe third-degree burns or death due to the fuel tank fire.
Chrysler’s Fuel Tank Recall Fix & Owner Trade-In Incentives
NHTSA first began an investigation into the fuel tank fires occurring in Jeep Cherokees and Jeep Liberties in 2010. Affected models included 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Liberties. In 2013, NHTSA urged the company to recall the models, but FCA refused to take action. A later agreement between NHTSA and FCA resulted in FCA conceding to fix more than 1.5 million Jeeps with rear fuel tank placement without admitting a defect existed or any fault.
This leads us to the fix that many safety advocates claimed was insufficient and unlikely to address the fuel tank fires. Rather than repairing the vehicles or otherwise changing their configuration, FCA agreed only to retrofit the vehicles with a rear trailer hitch. This rear hitch was supposed to provide protection for the fuel tank in the event of a rear-end collision.
However, even with this minimal fix, FCA delayed and attempted to minimize the potential costs associated with the repair. While the company originally estimated that it would be able to complete the repairs by March 2015, only 3 percent of affected vehicles were actually repaired by that date.
Safety Advocate Asks for Re-Opened Inquiry Due to Continued Fuel Tank Fires Despite Trailer Hitch Fix
In a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, safety advocate Clarence Ditlow charged that “As far as Fiat Chrysler is concerned, Jeeps can continue to crash and burn until they are all off the road.” Ditlow is the head of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
Ditlow states that since the recall, there have been 12 confirmed fire incidents in vehicles repaired under the recall or not covered by the recall. The 12 accidents the resulted in fuel tank fires took 20 lives. There are also 29 other incidents where death or injury occurred but the account of events in these cases have yet to be verified through FARS or through investigation by a federal agency.
Ditlow has called on federal regulators to re-open the inquiry. However, FCA claims that the fires were caused by “factors such as excessive speed and driver distraction.”
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