On my nationally syndicated radio show this past weekend, I took time away from callers to appeal to people who own certain Jeep models that are involved in a large recall. At issue is exploding gas tanks, which can be fatal. The vehicles involved are 1993 to 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokees, and 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberty models. The recall was announced in June 2013, and repairs began in January 2014.
The design of these vehicles placed the gas tank at the rear of the vehicle, behind the back axle. At the time the recall was announced, 51 people had died in fires that occurred after being hit from behind. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved a repair that allowed Chrysler to install a frame-mounted trailer hitch to the affected vehicles. The hitch is to serve as a shield of sorts, to keep the gas tanks from exploding.
While it is an unusual solution to repair a vehicle this way, there is nothing to indicate it is ineffective. The problem is, people are not getting the hitches installed. At the beginning of the recall, the dealers did not have the hitches and were unable to get them. Chrysler hired additional suppliers to build the hitches, and I am told today that they are readily available.
This recall involving the two Jeep models covered 1.56 million vehicles. As recently as last week, only 193,000 of these Jeeps had been repaired, or stated differently, roughly 87% of the dangerous vehicles are on American roads, unfixed. 1,367,000 of these vehicles are driving around among us and people are still dying.
Less than 8 weeks ago, a pregnant 23-year old Michigan woman died after being rear-ended in a 2003 Jeep Liberty. The same week, a 58-year old Virginia man died in one of the recalled Jeeps that had not had the recall performed.
It is easy to get what I call “recall apathy”. Recalls have become a part of life with automobiles, but with other products, including the food we eat. 2014 set a new record for recalls, with over 60 million cars on the road receiving a notice to take their car in. That is roughly one out of five cars on the road today.
While most recalls are not deadly like the Jeep recall, they are ALL safety related. The Takata airbag recall that is so widespread right now is another one that can be fatal. The GM ignition switch recall of 2014 caused the death of many, and will cost the car company millions in lawsuits.
In defense of the automakers, tracking down people who have recalled vehicles is not easy. People move, they trade their cars in, or sell them. You can’t force people to get their vehicles fixed. I learned this in the early 2000s with the Explorer/Firestone issue. People were dying at an alarming rate. Over 250 people died and 3,000 seriously injured. Yet, of the Explorers I sold when I owned my Ford dealership in Dallas, 175 people would not bring their vehicles in to get a 100% free set of tires.
I urge people to take recalls seriously, and help spread the word if you know someone who owns a vehicle with an open recall.
Remember, it is not just the person in the affected vehicle that is at risk. If you are the person that has a rear-end collision with an unrepaired Jeep, you are at risk of dying in the fire too.