Jeep 'trailer hitch' recall repair rates lag amidst reports of new death

The problem with exploding fuel tanks in the 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty in some rear collisions continues to be a problem for FCA US, formerly Chrysler. The campaign to fix the utility vehicles was first announced in June 2013 after 51 claimed fatalities, and the fixes reportedly began in January 2014. However, there continue to be new deaths blaming the problem in unrepaired models, according to The Detroit News, citing data from the Center for Auto Safety.

The automaker initially refused NHTSA's pressuring to conduct a recall because the models met applicable crash standards when they were manufactured, but eventually, there was a compromise to inspect and fix about 1.56 million Jeeps. With the fuel tank located between the rear axle and bumper, the unusual fix was to install a trailer hitch for extra protection. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration later agreed that the change would provide added safety in lower to medium speed crashes, but not high-speed crashes.

The most recent fatality, according to The Detroit News, occurred on a Michigan freeway in November 2014 when a pregnant woman in a 2003 Liberty was rear-ended when traffic slowed. Her Jeep impacted the vehicle in front, rolled over and a fire resulted. The family reportedly plans to file a lawsuit against FCA.

At issue has been the rate at which the vehicles are being fixed. In July 2014, the automaker estimated it could have all of the vehicles repaired by March 2015 thanks to additional hitch supplies. But by November, NHTSA claimed that only three percent of the recalled models had been fixed.

FCA says it continues to work to notify owners, though. According to Chrysler spokesperson Eric Mayne to Autoblog, "We are processing approximately 1,200 vehicles per day. Every owner who schedules service is receiving service. As of Jan. 8, that total was 193,490." The company has also mailed out over two million notifications to owners, more than the number officially called in. Given the age of these Jeeps, many of them have had multiple owners, and historically, the older a vehicle is, the less likely the recall fixes are to be carried out. FCA is currently creating a video urging people to have the hitch installed to be released soon.

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