At least 53 people have died in fatal fuel-fed fires that have occurred after a rear-end collision in certain Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty model years. The reason these collisions weren’t minor accidents but serious, catastrophic car collisions is a defective fuel system design that has the fuel tank exposed on the back end of the SUV.
If this sounds like the same fatal flaw that plagued the Ford Pinto from during the 70s, you are correct. Chrysler designed the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty to carry the fuel tank outside the rear axle, unprotected in case of a rear-end or serious collision.
The NHTSA requested Chrysler recall the almost 2.7 million vehicles affected by the serious safety defect, but Chrysler has refused. No solution has been identified for Chrysler vehicles with a rear-mounted fuel tank. A buyback program of all the affected models appears unfeasible as many are likely to have current values well-over $1,000, putting the buyback total for Chrysler a billion dollars over the company’s total earnings last year.
Chrysler maintains that its models met all safety regulations in place at the time the Grand Cherokees and Liberties were manufactured. Chrysler contends that the popular SUVs are still safe and roadworthy, despite the findings of the NHTSA and the 50+ fatalities tied to fuel-fed fires after a rear-end collision.
The last time Chrysler and the NHTSA butted heads over a vehicle safety recall was in 1998. The requested recall involved the restraint systems (seat belts) in the 1995 Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus.
Source: USA Today, “Shocker: Chrysler tells feds ‘no’ on Jeep recall request,” June 6, 2013