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US probes Jeep Grand Cherokee crash fires

Investigation: Fires in older Jeep Grand Cherokees are under investigation by US authorities.

Behind-axle plastic fuel tanks in pre-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees investigated in US

Jeep logo25 Aug 2010

UNITED States authorities have opened a formal investigation into previous-generation Jeep Grand Cherokees after reports of post-crash fires leading to 13 deaths.

Up to three million 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees are caught up in the investigation, which centres on the placement of the petrol tank behind the rear axle.

About 17,000 of the Jeep flagships were sold in Australia from the debut of the nameplate in March 1993 until the arrival of the third generation in mid 2005.

Chrysler Australia senior manager marketing and corporate communications Dean Bonthorne told GoAuto the company had no reports of such problems with the Grand Cherokee in Australia.

He said that contrary to the US claims, the Grand Cherokee had a “fantastic safety record” in Australia.

The investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) comes as Chrysler Group rolls out its fourth-generation 2011 Grand Cherokee in North America ahead of its Australian launch in January, just ahead of a facelifted Wrangler.

In the US, Chrysler has been at pains to point out that the NHSTA move is not a recall but an investigation, telling Autonews that the Grand Cherokee met all US crash safety regulations and that it was confident that the vehicle performed as well, if not better, than other vehicles in its class.

9 center imageCritics argue that the placement of the fuel tank, behind the rear axle and hanging below bumper, makes it vulnerable to damage in a rear-end collision. They also say the plastic tank’s filler pipe is prone to tear off in crashes.

In the current, third-generation Grand Cherokee – designed when Jeep was controlled by DaimlerChrysler – the fuel tank was moved forward of the axle and shielded.

The Centre for Auto Safety (CAS) petitioned NHTSA to recall 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees, saying the plastic fuel tank extended below the bumper “so there is nothing to protect it”.

According to the CAS claim, NHTSA files on fatal fire crashes involving Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1992 to 2008 showed 172 fatal fire crashes with 254 fatalities. Of those, there were 44 crashes with 64 fatalities where “the most harmful event is fire”.

CAS said that since the fuel tank had been moved forward of the rear axle and shielded in 2005, one fatal fire crash had been reported, and neither of the two deaths in that crash was a result of the fire.

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