Five years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into the safety of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty. The investigation was in response to a number of claims that the placement of the fuel tank on the 1993-2004 Cherokee model and the 2002-2007 Liberty model led to an increased likelihood of the tank being punctured and catching on fire in a rear-end collision. Over 75 fatal accidents have been linked to the faulty placement of the gas tank.
Why Was the Placement of the Gas Tank Unsafe?
When a vehicle is rear-ended, there is a standard crush zone of about two feet, meaning any auto part within two feet of the bumper could potentially be impacted by the collision. Because of this two foot crush zone and the combustibility of gas tanks, car manufacturers generally place the gas tank in front of the rear axle to provide added protection and ensure that it remains intact in the event of an accident.
Jeep, however, placed the fuel tank on the Cherokee and Liberty models in question behind the rear axle – just 11 inches from the bumper. This puts the gas tank in the middle of the crush zone and increases the odds that it will be punctured during a rear-end collision.
NHTSA Investigation Leads to Voluntary Recall
After conducting its investigation, the NHTSA tried to enforce a mandatory recall of nearly 3 million Jeep vehicles. But for almost three years, Chrysler (which bought the Jeep brand in 2009) fought against the NHTSA recall.
It wasn’t until 2013 when the Chrysler CEO had a private meeting with the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation that an agreement was met. Chrysler would voluntarily recall 1.5 million Cherokee and Liberty vehicles and have a tow package installed on the rear of the vehicle. The tow package would extend the initial point of impact in a rear collision and ostensibly provide additional protection for the gas tank.
NHTSA Considers Re-Opening Investigation
Just recently it was announced that the NHTSA may re-open its investigation into the voluntary recall. The agency has been disappointed with the amount of time it has taken Chrysler to recall the 1.5 million vehicles. It has been nearly two years since the announcement of the recall, yet only 3% of the vehicles have been equipped with the tow package.
There are also questions about whether the tow package provides sufficient protection for the gas tanks in the first place. One of Chrysler’s own engineers testified that the gas tank is still vulnerable even with the tow package installed. So if there are still questions about whether the installation of a tow package even corrects the problem, why did the NHTSA agree to the voluntary recall in the first place?
Lawsuits Filed Over Gas Tank Placement
Lawsuits have been filed throughout the country on behalf of victims who were injured or killed as a result of the placement of the gas tank. The lawsuits argue that manufacturer knew about the safety hazard for years and did nothing to correct the problem.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving one of the recalled Cherokee or Liberty models, you may be entitled to compensation. Arnold & Itkin LLP represents clients across the United States in matters concerning car accidents and product liability. Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation about your legal rights.