Monday, June 17, 2013

Update: Chrysler Group and NHTSA Resolve Recall Request

Chrysler Group LLC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have resolved their differences with respect to NHTSA’s request to recall 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty vehicles.

As a result of the agreement, Chrysler Group will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts. 

Chrysler Group’s analysis of the data confirms that these vehicles are not defective and are among the safest in the peer group. Nonetheless, Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles. 

Chrysler Group regards safety as a paramount concern and does not compromise on the safety of our customers and their families.

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The auto industry is all abuzz because Chrysler has refused to recall certain vehicles the NHTSA says are prone to fuel tank ruptures in rear end collisions. Chrysler disputes NHTSA's data. The whole "car erupts into flames when hit from behind" brings back memories of the Ford Pinto.

Way back when I worked for some Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Mercury sold a Pinto cousin the Bobcat. Same car, different grille and trim. I became very proficient at installing the "fix" for the fuel tank. I put fix in quotes because although it satisfied the NHTSA it was a joke, or at least it seemed to be.

The fix was two part - a plastic shield that wrapped around the front of the fuel tank and just scooted under the bottom few inches and a fuel filler pipe that extended farther into the fuel tank.

The shield was supposed to prevent the fuel tank from being punctured if it was pushed into the rear axle. I'm not sure how successful a piece of plastic (no more than maybe 1/16" thick) would be at preventing a piece of iron (rear axle) from piercing sheet metal (fuel tank) if one was jammed forcibly into the other. Ford and the Federal government said it worked and I was/am just some auto tech. It just seems to me that if the force was great enough to crumple the car then the fuel tank still didn't stand a chance.

The extended fuel filler may have worked. The theory was/is that the original filler pipe would pop out of the tank if the tank was pushed forward even a few inches allowing fuel to spew out. By extending the filler pipe farther into the tank by about 4" the tank had to move farther before the pipe would come out.

The big problem with retroactive "fixes" is they are retroactive, not designed in. There really isn't much room to do what was really needed for the Pinto, and the Chrysler vehicles - relocate the fuel tank.

Let's face it any vehicle, especially a gasoline powered one, is a rolling bomb. Even the smallest fuel tank carries over ten gallons of highly flammable liquid. Engineers can do everything in their power to make that Molotov cocktail as safe as possible but it is a bomb waiting for ignition.

It is a testament to the engineers that modern vehicles are as safe as they are. But no matter how safe the vehicle it remains potentially dangerous. I don't know how I feel about Chrysler saying "no" to NHTSA but if the data is in dispute shouldn't that have some standing? Maybe NHTSA should just require all motor vehicles to be labelled "Caution, may be dangerous" and make every purchaser sign a waiver acknowledging that user may risk injury or death.

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