Chrysler has decided to recall more than 400,000 Jeep Patriot and Compass small SUVs from the 2010 and 2012 model years to fix seatbelt and airbag problems, and 221,000 Jeep Wranglers from 2012 and 2013 to fix transmission fluid leaks. However, it is still refusing a government request to recall 2.7 million older-model Jeeps for problems with its gas tanks. Consumer advocate Joan Claybrook says that’s a huge mistake.
“I think it’s going to destroy the Jeep brand if it keeps on opposing this,” said Claybrook, president emeritus at the national consumer group Public Citizen and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The agency said this week that the fuel tanks in the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-2007 Liberty SUV models can leak or catch fire in rear-end crashes.
So what should a consumer do?
“I would get rid of it, or you could repair it. It’s expensive; these vehicles are old,” Claybrook said.
To fix the problem, Claybrook said, the vehicles “need to have a check valve on the filler neck where you put the gas in, because it pulls off when the vehicle is hit from the rear and gas spews out.”
You’ll also need some type of reinforcement at the back of the vehicle to prevent the gas tank from being broken open, or from leaking, she added.
In refusing to recall the Jeep models, Chrysler has said the analysis of the underlying data is incomplete. However, Claybrook disagrees.
“What you have here is a design problem, and statistics do not make any difference if you have a design defect,” she said. “The gas tank is located much too far to the rear. It’s an old technology.”
Chrysler did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement released earlier this week, CEO Sergio Marchionne said, “The safety of drivers and passengers has long been the first priority for Chrysler brands and that commitment remains steadfast. The company stands behind the quality of its vehicles. All of us remain committed to continue working with NHTSA to provide information concerning the safety of these vehicles.”
Claybrook pointed out that Chrysler still has the opportunity to change its mind about the recall, and Chrysler has said it is working with the NHTSA to address the issue. However, Chrysler could still face a court hearing if the matter isn’t resolved.
“If you continue to have a large, large number of your vehicles have a safety defect, and you refuse to fix it, people are going to question the safety of the Jeep brand,” Claybrook said. “I think that’s a terrible mistake on Chrysler’s part.”