Reopen Investigation into Jeep Fires, Auto Safety Group Asks

The Center for Auto Safety, through its head Clarence Ditlow, is asking the government to resume its investigation of Jeep SUVs whose rear ends burst into flames when involved in a crash. Since Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.56 million Jeeps three years ago, there have been 11 more fatalities under the same circumstances.

Grand Cherokees of 1993 to 1998 and Libertys from 2002 to 2007 were the vehicles recalled. It was found that the Jeeps had plastic gas tanks installed behind the rear axle. In a crash, it can rupture and spill gasoline, causing fire. The repair of recalls entailed the installation of a trailer hitch that will protect the tanks in low-speed collisions, but this hasn’t solved the problem. Ditlow wants the automaker to come up with an effective correction to stop the fires and save lives.

Before the recall in June 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 75 deaths involving Jeeps that had burst into flames upon crashing. Now the figures have risen to 86. The NHTSA had ordered Fiat Chrysler to recall 2.7 million Cherokees but the automobile company did so with only 1.5 million units. The slow pace of obeying the order and failure to report defects and fatalities led to a fine of $175 million within a two-year period. But Chrysler is firm in its stand that its cars are just as safe as other makes.

The deaths post-recall included those of Edward and Theresa Dearden of York, PA, who were in their 50s. In a pileup in May 2014 at I-78, a car crashed into the rear end of their 1995 Grand Cherokee, causing it to explode. Their son has brought a lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler claiming that his parents’ vehicle was included in the recall before the crash but they were not informed about it.

Last July, the automaker, which had initially fought off NHTSA’s order, finally relented and made trade-in offers to owners of Jeeps, or pay them for the installation of hitches. So far, only 35 percent of the Jeeps under recall have undergone repair by the end of 2015.