Federal safety officials have launched an investigation into reports that problems with gas tanks on more than 3 million Jeep Grand Cherokees could cause fuel leaks and fires in some crashes.
The government probe involves possible defects in the sport utility vehicles from the 1993 to 2004 model years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. The action is the first step in determining whether a recall is needed.
The advocacy group Center for Auto Safety called for the investigation in October, alleging that the placement of the Grand Cherokee’s plastic fuel tank behind the rear axle and below the rear bumper allowed for the possibility of tank ruptures, fuel spills and tank detachment during rear-end collisions and rollovers.
NHTSA reported that in its initial review the Grand Cherokee did not have a significantly higher number of fires after crashes than other vehicles.
Since 1992, the agency said, there have been 55 deaths in crashes of Grand Cherokees in which fire was listed as the “most harmful event.” In 10 of those crashes, rear collisions were reported.
In a statement, NHTSA said, “The existence of these post-crash fires does not, by itself, establish a defect trend. Further review and investigation into these incidents is needed to determine the existence of any relationship between the alleged defect and each fire or leak.”
Jeep and its parent company, Chrysler, are cooperating with the government investigation into the possible tank defects, said Michael Palese, a Chrysler spokesman.
“It is important to note that this is an investigation, not a recall,” Palese said.