• Jun 28th 2013 at 1:23PM
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Jeep Grand Cherokee recall confusing consumers (AP)
A deal between the government and Chrysler over Jeeps linked to deadly fires isn't sitting well with many Jeep owners and auto safety advocates.

In early June, after a nearly three-year investigation, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration recommended that Chrysler recall 2.7 million older Jeep SUVs because the fuel tanks could rupture, leak and cause fires in rear-end crashes.

But last week, after talks between outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, the agency compromised, letting Chrysler limit the recall to about 1.5 million vehicles.

The agreement removed about 1.2 million Jeep Grand Cherokees, model years 1999 to 2004, from the recall, leaving some owners confused about the safety of their vehicles. Chrysler argued that those Jeeps have a different design than the ones it agreed to recall and are as safe as comparable models from other automakers.

The about-face has confused people like Els Sipkes, a photographer from near Charleston, S.C. Her 2000 Grand Cherokee isn't being recalled, although the government initially said it should be.

She says that every time she stops quickly, she checks her rear-view mirror. "It's in my mind that if a car crashes into the back of me, that I've got to be on my toes and I've got to get out," she said.

Chrysler won't comment on the recall, beyond the documents it filed with NHTSA outlining its case.
Sean Kane, a frequent critic of NHTSA who heads a safety research company in Massachusetts, said the number of vehicles cut from the Jeep recall is unusual. But the agency frequently negotiates the size of recalls with car companies, he said. For example, in the early 2000s, Ford negotiated a series of smaller recalls that held off a big one for vehicles with cruise control switches that caused fires, he said. But the company eventually recalled more than 10 million vehicles.

David Kelly, former NHTSA chief of staff and acting administrator under President George W. Bush, said Chrysler probably presented data justifying the smaller recall. "I am positive that the agency would never negotiate vehicles out of a recall if they felt they were unsafe," he said.

Recall them all?

Yet critics say all the Jeeps should be recalled. And they question whether Chrysler's solution of adding a trailer hitch as an extra buffer in the back is enough to prevent deadly fires.

Under the recall Chrysler will, free of charge, install hitches on any Grand Cherokees from 1993-1998 and Libertys from 2002-2007 that don't already have them from the factory. About 65 percent of Jeeps from that era were sold without factory hitches, according to Ward's Automotive. Chrysler will inspect those with hitches purchased elsewhere and replace them if they have sharp edges that could puncture the gas tank.

The 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees are part of a "customer service campaign." Here, a Chrysler dealer will inspect a trailer hitch installed after the car was purchased and replace it if necessary. But Chrysler won't install a hitch on any vehicle that doesn't already have one.

Chrysler Group LLC, which is majority owned by Fiat SpA of Italy, hasn't disclosed how much the recall could cost, although hitches sell for about $200 each on websites.

On June 3, the government sent Chrysler a 13-page letter requesting a recall of all 2.7 million Grand Cherokees and Libertys in question. The letter included detailed statistics on crashes involving fuel tank fires in SUVs from model years 1993 to 2007. The agency said the data showed the Jeeps were more prone to fuel tank fires than similar models. The Jeeps have gas tanks behind the rear axle, a design that was fairly common when they were built but isn't used much anymore. NHTSA had evidence of 37 Jeep accidents that killed 51 people.

Chrysler argued that the vehicles were safe. The company said its data show the Jeeps are no more prone to fatal crashes than comparable vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Blazer and
Toyota 4Runner. But it agreed to the smaller recall, it says, to improve the Jeeps' safety.

When asked about the government's change of position, spokeswoman Karen Aldana said in an emailed statement that NHTSA let Chrysler remove the 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees from the recall because the design change made them safer than the older models. The agency's full analysis will be published when the investigation is completed, she said.

But NHTSA knew about the change to the Grand Cherokee's design long before it asked for the recall. Documents on NHTSA's website examined by The Associated Press show that Chrysler detailed the change in a November 2010 letter to the agency.
The recall deal came after outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA Administrator

David Strickland met with Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on June 9, and it was sealed in a June 18 telephone call, a Transportation Department spokesman confirmed.

Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, an activist group founded by Ralph Nader, said those events show the deal was made by political appointees and not by engineers. Ditlow's 2009 inquiry prompted NHTSA to investigate the Jeeps.

Ditlow is urging NHTSA to test the trailer hitches to see if they offer added safety. Ditlow said a hitch failed to protect 4-year-old Cassidy Jarmon of Cleburne, Texas, who died in a fire after her family's 1993 Grand Cherokee was rear-ended by a car in 2006. The hitch punctured the gas tank, he said.

According to news reports, police estimated the Jeep was hit by a car traveling 52 mph.
NHTSA's abrupt position change even worries people who own a Jeep with a trailer hitch.
Soham Vaishnav, a pediatrician from Chicago who uses a wheelchair, had a hitch installed by U-Haul on his 2004 Grand Cherokee. But he's still not convinced it's safe to carry his children, ages 1 and 4. So Vaishnav and his wife are thinking of buying a new car.

"There's just not enough time after a fire starts," he said.

Resale values hit by recall

Some owners also fear the controversy will hurt resale values.

"It kind of depreciates the car's value because people would be wary of buying them," said Charles Mangan, a recent college graduate from South Carolina who is moving to New York City. Mangan hopes to sell the 2004 Grand Cherokee he bought used four years ago. His SUV isn't part of the recall, but he's thinking of paying to get a trailer hitch installed.

Newer Grand Cherokees and Libertys aren't as risky as the old ones. Chrysler moved the fuel tank in front of the axle in a 2005 redesign, which helped meet stricter government rear-crash safety requirements imposed that year. The change also brought easier back-seat access and more storage space. The Liberty's tank was moved forward in the 2008 model year.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Owners are worried NOW that they can catch fire when rear ended,yet they never realized they bought a facade of a rugged vehicle,and not the real thing.Small SUVs are not tanks.They roll over easier than cars diue to the center of gravity,and the all wheel drive can make 3 or 4 wheels slip instead of just 1 or 2 on slippery surfaces.They get horrid gas mileage,are always in the shop for repairs,and rusty terribly.If a regular station wagon is not big enough for you,buy a minivan,the gas tanks in those have ALWAYS been ahead of the rear axle (at least on front wheel drive models).
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yeah well they refuse to acknowledge the sudden acceleration problem that randomly pops up in Jeeps. Jeep fans know about it. It's all over the Jeep forums. In fact, my Jeep started to do it and then randomly stop. It would accelerate when I pressed on the brake. I had to shift into neutral and coast to a stop for two months because I was afraid of hitting someone or another car. It finally stopped doing it. No one seems to be able to figure out what causes it to start and stop and Chrysler refuses to acknowledge the problem at all. It would also be nice if they stopped putting cheap plastic parts in. Yeah.
      • 2 Years Ago
      My wife drives our 2004 Grand Cherokee Limited . Two different times once she backed out of our driveway did not see our son,s Honda that was lowered and she backed up to his roof ripping open the gas tank and damaging our son,s car .The second time she was rear ended on rt 9 ripping the tank open again . I guess we were lucky because there was no fire.This vehicle from day one is really bad on the road when light rain or snow is on the ground even in 4 wheel drive going straight is fine but if you need to change lanes at anything faster than 25 you had better be very careful .I have had new tires put on (700 BUCKS) while the one,s on the car were fine tread wise thinking the tire,s were the problem i bought the best.Same thing .Now this car that has been a one driver (LADY) NO HOT RODDING AND HAS NEVER GONE OFF ROAD is leaking from every gasket possable.I have spoken to other about the leaks and all had the same problems.She is afraid to drive it and i own it outright (paid close to 40 grand) and its value has just dropped to 0 .THIS IS ROBBERY!!! My son own,s a biz that he repair,s small engines and if there is a problem he stands behind his work even if it cost him money! He care,s for the people that give him work. I guess JEEP does not care if we buy another jeep product or not ! STAND BEHIND YOUR DEFECTIVE PRODUCT.WE DO! It should be recalled because it pollutes the envirement. All Jeeps have the SAME PROBLEMS THE COMPUTER IS A GREAT TOOL TO SPEAK WITH OTHER OWNERS.
      • 1 Year Ago
      We live in a world of government encroachment and paranoia. There is not anything wrong with the vehicles, its the drivers who own them that don't read the manuals nor know how to drive.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am 72 years old, have 4 small grandchildren (5-10 yrs). I also hare a 2004 Liberty. Wilp Chrysler GUARANTEE they are safe riding with me and they won't burn up if I am rear ended? This grammie is a safe driver!
      • 2 Years Ago
      The government seems to be on a witch hunt. Somebody at Chrysler po'ed someone in Washington.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Just another reason not to buy a Jeep. Anyone remember the gas tanks blowing up on the Ford Pinto from the 70's?
      • 1 Year Ago
      I don't get it. I've owned 3 Grand Cherokees and all have been gold. I had a 1993 (grand wagoneer package) with the 5.2L V8. Never had a single mechanicle issue. Again, this was the grand wagonner edition grand cherokee. The original Grand Wagoneer ended in 1992. I've also had (2) 2004 Special Editions, both of which have had zero mechancial issues. Neither have had any sudden acceleration issues. Neither have shut off randomly. Truly neither has had any issue that others are claiming as a problem. I could only recommend Grand Cherokees above any other vehicle.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I own a 1989 Jeep Comanche Pioneer Pickup Truck with 91,965 actual miles and never had any kind of problem with it untill a few years ago when the brake booster went out due to age. The truck is in need of a Compete Brake System Overhaul, a front-end alignment and the AC system needs a slight overall. The driver's door needs a new widow regulator (window crank roll-up mechanism) . It has been garage kept for most of the 24 years that I have owned it. It was bought brand new in May of 1989 right off the Dealership's lot. I plan on keeping this vehicle and getting the repairs done to it as it is a classic vehicle now. A friend of mine wanted to buy it from me and I thought $ 1,000.00 was a reasonable price for it and close to the Kelly Blue Book Resale/Trade In value. But when I went to autotrader.com and started looking at other Jeep Comanche Pioneer P/U's , I came across ones that looked like they had been in a war zone and they were asking between $ 2,000.00 and $3,000.00 for them! If I had sold mine for $ 1,000.00 I would have been cheating myself!
      • 2 Years Ago
      Another problem that all jeep owner have at one time or another is death wobble.If you have ever driven it when it happens it will scare the heck out of you it happened to me at 60 mph and i almost lost total control.I have owned more than 100 cars in my life and i have never delt with anything that this JEEP suffers from. I am far from rich a and the option to buy new is not affordable i am disabled and my wife has her own problems. I truly thought this car would last much longer! I had a Ford that i put 1 million miles on during my working days no major problems because i service all my car,s like clock work. WHEN BENZ BOUGHT JEEP IT WENT DOWN HILL !!! I bet they new it all along ! I would rather try my chances with a Pinto , Vega or Corvair !! ALL SUFFER (JEEPS) from the same problems 2004 as well.
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