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The Real Reason for the Massive Jeep Recall

Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty Fire Danger Recall
Chrysler caused its own problem with the Jeep recall involving the Grand Cherokee and the Liberty because they ignored their own internal 1978 memo on where to put gas tanks on cars.

The design that led to the recall was a problem they knew about in 1978, but they built the design defect into the Jeep Liberty and Jeep Grand Cherokee anyway. So just how do you fix stupid?

Chrysler is being criticized for cutting a deal to decrease the number of vehicles involved in its recent Jeep recall. NHTSA, the recall agency, is getting criticized for going along with it. The Center for Auto Safety's Clarence Ditlow is getting criticized for objecting to the deal that Chyrsler and NHTSA made.

While everyone is complaining about it, few actually have looked into the cause for the recall itself. When you do, you realize that they had it coming. In fact, they knew back in 1978 that what they ultimately did in designing the Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty was stupid. And the only way to fix "design stupid" is with a recall.

It all started when the accidents started causing fires and people started to die.  The Center for Auto Safety, whose mission is auto safety and quality, heard about how a gas tank ruptured in a rear end collision and started asking federal safety investigators at NHTSA to look into it. NHTSA is the federal agency in charge of motor vehicle recalls. After more fires were reported, it eventually became obvious that something was going on.
Another burned up Jeep from a rear end accident and fire.

One of the fire accidents that started the federal investigation was when a Jeep was rear ended by a semi truck going 60 mph. We absolutely agree that you can't blame Jeep for an accident caused by a semi truck, unless there was something wrong with that Jeep that made the injuries worse. But it is not Chrysler management's mentality to toss in the towel if they think they are right. 

Chrysler does, however, have a mentality to weigh the costs of bad PR. So after the recall came out, Chrysler said they would fight it. Then it decided it wouldn't. What's up with that?

Chrysler had a secret meeting with federal safety investigators and ultimately made a deal to go along with a recall of fewer vehicles than first demanded by federal safety investigators. That "meeting" was about cutting costs to do what they knew had to do anyway. 

NHTSA only does a recall after a long, exhaustive, scientific analysis of an issue - because they know that their decision may end up in Court. The Preliminary Evaluation was followed by an Engineering Analysis and this investigation, for example, started in 2009 and it took 4 years to get to this point - and Chrysler was involved throughout the entire process (the manufacturer always is). 
There's the Gas Tank, just waiting to get hit in a rear end collision.

What came out of it is that the industry standard placement location for fuel tanks is in front of the rear axle but Chrysler put the two recalled Jeep fuel tanks behind the rear axle, in a vulnerable position. No other SUV make does that and most vehicles of any kind don't do that. The Grand Cherokee and Liberty models had twice the normal SUV rate of fire fatalities from a rear end accident. 

In fact, an 8-24-1978 internal memo at Chrysler pointed out that doing that would expose the gas tank to collision damage. It happened and that's what started this whole Jeep recall thing. 

NHTSA did not push for this recall without evidence that something was wrong. It did so in an extraordinary 13 page, detailed letter to Chrysler (you can go to NHTSA's recall pages and see that most such letters are 2-3 pages). Read the NHTSA letter (we did) yourself. 

But we are sure that Chrysler thought it was right to fight the recall. And just as sure that Ditlow was objecting for just one reason - auto safety and quality.  Not everyone is nuts and reasonable people can disagree and still just be reasonable people doing their job. The Jeep recall has nothing to do with big government or politics. Folks may not like NHTSA or Ditlow or the Center for Auto Safety, but this recall has to do with one thing only - auto safety and quality. 

It is just plain stupid to put a gas tank behind the immovable hard metal rear axle where nothing but the rear plastic bumper is protecting it from rupturing in a rear end collision. A ruptured gas tank causes fires and fires kill people. 

The only way to fix stupid when it comes to car design, is to do a recall. And, as Chrysler knows, the way to limit the cost of a recall is to negotiate the quantity of vehicles being recalled.

Burdge Law Office
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