Many of us driving in vehicles often take for granted that they are well constructed. We just assume that because they are sold to us, especially at a high price, they must be reasonably safe and reliable. However, this is not always the case. On June 3, 2013 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came down with a ruling which states that Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee (1993-2004) is particularly prone to fires and fuel leakages when struck from behind. The NHTSA issued a demand to Chrysler seeking the recall of all Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993-2004. This would be a big hit to Chrysler financially; however it is necessary to protect those who travel on the road in these vehicles.
A grim tale and one woman’s quest highlights this terrible problem. Jenelle Embrey, a Virginia woman, witnessed the horrific death of Acoye Breckenridge, 18, when Janelle Embrey and her father came upon a crash which involved a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The car ignited, and although they were able to save two of the passengers, Breckenridge could not be saved. Having watched as a young life went up in flames before her, Jenelle Embrey launched a campaign to pressure Chrysler to recall these dangerous vehicles from the road. She is not wealthy; however she has spent $2,000 a month on three billboards in Virginia requesting people sign her petition for change.
The hazard of fires from rear impacts is due to the fact that in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the fuel tank is located behind the rear axle. Most manufacturers place the fuel tank in a much safer position, usually in front of the rear axle or somewhere else that is not prone to being crushed upon impact. When crushed, fuel tanks leak which substantially increase the risk of fire. In the 70s, fuel tanks were frequently placed behind the rear axle. The impetus to change this was brought about by several terrible crashes in the 70s which resulted in fire related fatalities. After manufacturers became aware of this risk, they started to design cars with fuel tanks located in safer places. Chrysler is well aware of this trend and has in fact changed the design of the Jeep Grand Cherokee in 2005. Chrysler however insists that it is not related to the NHTSA investigation or concerns voiced that the fuel tanks in years prior were a safety hazard.
Chrysler so far has refused to comply with NHTSA’s demand and plans to contest the investigation. They argue that Jeep Grand Cherokees are no more prone to igniting upon rear-impacts than any other vehicle in its class. The NHTSA’s report and analysis of available data clearly dispute this. So far, there have been about 43 fire related fatalities in 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees. This is far too many and we need to change this terrible injustice.