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In a surprising turn of events, Chrysler has announced that it will not recall 2.7 million Jeeps despite a government warning letter asking that the automaker recall the potentially dangerous vehicles. Earlier this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a letter sent to Chrysler telling it to recall millions of Jeeps due to the risk of a vehicle fire caused by rear-end collisions.

In its letter, the NHTSA said that it had been investigating the Jeeps since August of 2010 and says the placement of the gas tanks, located behind the rear axle, increases the danger of a vehicle fire. The NHTSA also said that the height of the vehicles means the fuel tank is too high above the road to be protected in the event of a crash.

Chrysler, rather than do as it was told, responded aggressively saying that the NHTSA’s analysis was faulty. The company says it disagrees with the recall request and, as a result, will not honor it. Many in the industry are surprised at the response from Chrysler. Since Toyota’s recent recall debacle, most automakers have erred on the side of caution when it comes to announcing recalls. Car companies are generally eager to avoid being seen as arguing in favor of keeping unsafe cars on the road. Despite this concern, Chrysler and the NHTSA were unable to work out an agreement for the company to issue a voluntary recall. The NHTSA’s decision to publicly call for a recall is a surprising move and speaks to the urgency of the matter. Given Chrysler’s refusal, the NHTSA’s next option is to take the company to court and try to force a recall.

The issue is a serious one. The Center for Auto Safety has said that more than 150 people have died in fires caused by rear-impact accidents in Jeeps. The NHTSA, which uses different figures when compiling its totals, says that there have been at least 44 deaths in 32 rear-end crashes in Jeep Grand Cherokees and seven deaths in Jeep Liberty models.

The government says that the vehicle fire rate in other vehicles with rear-mounted tanks is about half the rate seen in Jeeps. The issue would be a costly one for Chrysler because there is no simple repair to fix the problem. The only thing the company could do is re-engineer the tank and vehicle underbody to move the tank forward where it would be less vulnerable, a task which would be almost impossible in older model cars.


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