Dallas Law Firm Blog

Jeep Grand Cherokee at Higher Risk of Post Collision Fire

Texas Car Fires Caused by Vehicle DefectsThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently investigating Jeep Grand Cherokee cars, model years 1993 until 2004, as well as the Jeep Liberty; model years 2002 to 2007, to determine if the fuel tank design in those cars presents an unreasonable risk to safety. NHTSA’s preliminary investigation found that “rear impact related tank failures and vehicle fires are more prevalent in the Jeep Grand Cherokee than in the non-Jeep peer vehicles.” NHTSA also found “a higher incidence of rear-impact, fatal fire crashes for the Jeep products.” In other words, more people are dying from fires caused by rear impacts in Grand Cherokees than in other peer vehicles.

Although NHTSA’s investigation into this dangerous and devastating defect is recent, some safety advocates have been warning of the heightened risk of fire for years. Mr. Clarence Ditlow and the Center for Auto Safety, in 2009, filed a formal request, known as a defect petition, which argued that NHTSA had overlooked an important safety issue: that Jeep Grand Cherokees were more likely to burst into flames when struck from behind than other Sport Utility Vehicles in their peer group. Mr. Ditlow has argued that the Grand Cherokee is far more likely to experience deadly rear-impact fires for two reasons: first, the fuel tank is located between the rear axel and the rear bumper in what engineers call the “crush Zone,” and therefore left unprotected, and second, the fuel filler pipe can rip away in a rear impact, leaking gasoline. Jeep changed the design in the Grand Cherokee for model year 2005, positioning the gas tank in front of the rear axel.

Do Manufacturers Know the Dangers?

Auto-manufacturers have long known of the dangers of placing fuel tanks within the crush zones of vehicles. In the 1970s, Ford placed the fuel tank of the Pinto in a similar location, between the rear bumper and the rear axel. The result was several deaths caused by fires that erupted after rear-end impacts and millions of dollars paid out by Ford to the families of the victims. Similarly, in the 1970s and 80s, General Motors placed fuel tanks in its pick up trucks between the sheet metal siding and the frame well. This tank design, known as side-saddle tanks, resulted in 100s of fires and deaths in side impact accidents and cost General Motors millions of dollars. Apparently, Chrysler failed to learn from Ford and General Motors’ prior mistakes.

The fact is, in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, industry literature and vehicle crash testing demonstrated that designs that placed the fuel tank above or in front of the rear axel were much safer than behind-the–axel designs. There is simply no valid reason why Chrysler should not have known of the unreasonable risk of fires created by placing the fuel tank of the Grand Cherokee in such a dangerous location.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of fire that erupted following a crash, then consult an auto defect attorney. The attorneys at the Dallas law firm of Guajardo & Marks have been representing victims of post collision fires for over 20 years.