New Ground In Battle Over Recalls

When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requests that an automaker recall a vehicle, the request is almost never refused. Auto defects can cause a recall due to any number of reasons, including safety concerns and the risk of serious injury if the product fails. A recent NHTSA call for Chrysler to recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993 to 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 to 2007 has been challenged by Chrysler. The NHTSA has now given the car company until June 18 to make a formal response to the request of a recall of roughly 2.7 million vehicles.

The NHTSA says that the fuel system, specifically the design of the gas tank, makes these vehicles a threat for catching fire in a rear-end collision. Chrysler has initially contended that other vehicles use the same or similar design and that the vehicles are in line with federal safety standards regarding fuel-system integrity. It has further contended that a redesign would not prevent the fires that have claimed the lives of 51 people since the cars were released.

Depending on the company’s response, the NHTSA could issue a formal finding and schedule a public hearing. The government agency could then issue a recall. Chrysler won a similar dispute in 1996 in a federal court decision concerning a proposed recall for a seat belt system. The NHTSA did not end up forcing a recall in that situation.

Recalls are a highly expensive proposition for automakers. A way to fix the vehicle must be found and that solution must be made available to all the owners of the vehicles in question. The financial incentive to refuse to recall a vehicle is clear. If the NHTSA determines that the vehicles are unsafe and that a different configuration is required to make them safe, the recall would likely cost Chrysler millions of dollars.

Source: USA Today, “NHTSA gives Chrysler June 18 deadline on Jeep recall,” by Matt Schmitz, 11 June 2013