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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Grand Cherokees investigated for fire risk in crash


DETROIT - U.S. safety regulators have opened a preliminary investigation of about 3 million older Jeep Grand Cherokees with fuel tanks that may present a fire risk in a crash, the regulator said Tuesday.

The investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is short of a recall, and a Chrysler Group LLC spokesman said owners of the 1993-2004 model year vehicles should take no action at this time. Chrysler said it was cooperating fully with the safety agency on the investigation. It said the Detroit-made Jeep Grand Cherokees from those model years "meet or exceed" federal safety standards.

The Center for Auto Safety petitioned the regulators last October to open an investigation, saying agency records show that from 1992 to 2008 the SUVs were involved in 172 fatal fire crashes with 254 deaths. The petition did not say how many, if any, deaths were related to the fuel tanks.

The Grand Cherokee's plastic fuel tank from those model years was behind the rear axle, extended below the rear bumper, and had inadequate shielding, leaving it vulnerable to rupturing or leaking in a crash, the center said.

In response to the center's petition, federal safety investigators did a preliminary examination of data that isolated 10 crashes with 13 fatalities most likely associated with the defect the center described, the safety agency said.

A preliminary review of data supplied to federal regulators did not find the Grand Cherokee "overrepresented for post-crash fires," the safety agency said.

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