DETROIT - The U.S. government's road-safety agency is accusing Chrysler of moving too slowly to fix some Jeep SUVs in a recall announced more than a year ago.
DETROIT — The U.S. government’s road-safety agency is accusing Chrysler of moving too slowly to fix some Jeep SUVs in a recall announced more than a year ago.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a letter released yesterday, asks the automaker why it’s taking so long to fix as many as 2.5 million older Grand Cherokee and Liberty models with gas tanks mounted behind the rear axles. The tanks could rupture in rear collisions, leak fuel and cause fires.
The letter is the latest skirmish in a long fight between the automaker and agency over the safety of the SUVs, all built before the 2008 model year. Initially, the NHTSA wanted the company to recall 2.7 million of them, but Chrysler refused, saying they were as safe as similar vehicles. They eventually worked out a deal to recall 1.56 million, with 1.2 million others placed in a campaign to be inspected for hitches. Last year, the NHTSA said a three-year investigation showed that 51 people had died in fiery crashes in Jeeps with gas tanks behind the rear axle.
In the letter, the NHTSA says Chrysler will send notices to owners of 1.5 million Grand Cherokees from 1993-1998 model years, and to another 1 million owners of 2002-2007 Libertys.
But the letter says production of the trailer hitches didn’t start until May of this year, and the pace is so slow that it will take Chrysler 4.7 years to get enough hitches if all owners respond to the recall. If only half respond, it will take Chrysler two years to get the parts, the letter said.
“For many owners, a recall remedy deferred by parts availability easily becomes a defect remedy denied,” the NHTSA wrote. “The agency has no intention of allowing Chrysler, or any other manufacturer, to delay recall completion to the detriment of safety.”
Chrysler has until July 16 to respond to the agency’s request for information, or faces up to a $35 million fine, the agency said.
At least part of the delays can be attributed to the NHTSA testing the trailer-hitch remedy. The agency did crash tests to determine whether the hitches would work, and on Jan. 13, it told Chrysler that it had no reservations about the fix.
The automaker says the NHTSA has had full knowledge of its work on the recall and that the company complied with all federal regulations. Chrysler is confident that it will be able to produce enough hitches to satisfy demand, and there could be some sort of misunderstanding with the NHTSA, spokesman Mike Palese said.
Affected customers have been told that the recall and service campaigns are coming. Chrysler said it will contact them again “when the time is appropriate to schedule service.”
The NHTSA did not respond when asked if there’s a limit on the amount of time an automaker has to finish a recall.