In a major development for auto safety, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) will examine more closely more than 5 million SUVs manufactured by Chrysler, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Liberty models. The investigation comes after about two dozen reported fires caused by rear-impact collisions.
The NHTSA said that a preliminary investigation had been upgraded to an engineering analysis. The problem is fuel tanks located behind the rear axle, which may have played a role in 46 injuries and 15 deaths, according to the agency.
It is possible that such an investigation may lead to a recall. Depending on how many of the 5.1 million vehicles are still operating, a recall would rank among the 10 largest the U.S. has ever seen. The Toyota recall of 2009 and 2010 models, due to claims of unintended acceleration, involved 10 million cars.
A consumer advocacy group, the Center for Auto Safety, has asked Chrysler to better protect the cars’ fuel tanks. In a letter to Chrysler, the group called Jeeps “a modern-day Pinto for soccer moms.” In the late 1970s, Ford recalled about 1.5 million Pintos due to the danger of fires caused by rear-end collisions.
The investigation into Chrysler vehicles was first opened by the NHTSA in 2010 and covers models manufactured from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s. In 2005, Chrysler redesigned the vehicles so that the fuel tank is no longer located behind the rear axle.
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