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Chrysler backs down, recalls 2.7 million Jeeps for fire risk

June 18, 2013|By Ken Bensinger
  • NHTSA found the fuel tanks on 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys are more likely to leak and cause fires. Above, 2001 Grand Cherokees.
NHTSA found the fuel tanks on 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys… (Carlos Osorio / Associated…)

Two weeks after refusing a government request to recall roughly 2.7 million Jeep sport utility vehicles for alleged fire risks, Chrysler has cut a deal with regulators.

The nation’s third-largest automaker announced Tuesday that it would address the problem by installing a trailer hitch on the SUVs to "better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts."

On June 4, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked for a recall after determining that at least 50 people had died in fires after rear-end collisions. After a two-year investigation, regulators said the likely cause was a defective gas tank design.

The alleged defect involves 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty models.

Chrysler will install trailer hitches on Grand Cherokee and Liberty vehicles that don’t already have them, and replace aftermarket hitches with Chrysler-made parts.

But the company maintains the posture that the Jeeps have no safety defect. The automaker made the deal over concerns about a "perception that there is an issue with the safety record of these vehicles,” the spokesman said. Chrysler said it was calling the action a “voluntary campaign” rather than a recall.

The decision marks a decided about-face for the automaker, which has loudly protested the NHTSA  findings, as well as the allegations by safety advocates that the two Jeep models were far more prone to such fires than comparable vehicles from other manufacturers.

According to NHTSA research, the Grand Cherokee is five times more likely to catch fire after being rear-ended than the Toyota 4Runner, for example.

Chrysler said it did not know how many vehicles would require the installation of trailer hitches, which it will install at no charge. According to Chrysler’s MOPAR parts website, a trailer hitch and mounting adapter for a 2001 Grand Cherokee retails for a total of $54.55.

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Chrysler defies federal regulators on Jeep recall

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ken.bensinger@latimes.com

Twitter: @kenbensinger

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