Earlier this summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended the recall of approximately 2.7 million Jeep vehicles. An investigation over three years found that the gas tanks in these vehicles were defective, and that they could leak and cause fires in some rear-end accidents. Chrysler, however, believed that it was not necessary to recall that many vehicles and the company entered into negotiations with the NHTSA. Afterwards, the NHTSA announced that it had allowed the automaker to limit the number of recalled vehicles to about 1.5 million Jeeps.
The recall process has, of course, left many consumers confused about whether their vehicles are, in fact, safe to drive. According to Chrysler, the vehicles removed from the recall - approximately 1.2 million Jeep Grand Cherokees manufactured between 1999 and 2004 - have fuel tanks that were designed differently from those that were found to pose a fire hazard. Still, the NHTSA's decision to agree to the reduction is puzzling because it knew that the tanks in the 1999 to 2004 vehicles were redesigned before it announced the initial recall.
For some consumers and safety advocates, this recent episode between Chrysler and the NHTSA calls into question the government's ability to ensure the safety of vehicles that are currently on the road. Many people were surprised to learn that the NHTSA would negotiate with car manufacturers to determine the number of vehicles that should be subject to a recall notice. Even though the number of vehicles in this case was quite large, this process of negotiation between the government and automakers is actually quite common.
Critics argue that the safest course of action in situations such as these would be to recall all vehicles the government believes to be a threat. Automakers, of course, argue that this approach is not only costly for them, but also unnecessary. If the evidence indicates that not all vehicles pose a safety threat, why not restrict the number subject to recall?
The Jeep recall has also caused controversy because of Chrysler's suggested fix for the problem. Rather than replace the fuel tank, dealerships will install a trailer hitch on the recalled vehicles. Although the NHTSA has approved Chrysler's actions, engineers and safety advocates are calling on the administration to test whether the addition of a trailer hitch offers any increase in safety whatsoever. They fear that the decision to allow both the reduction in the number of recalled vehicles and the fix suggested by Chrysler was made by bureaucrats with limited engineering knowledge.