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NHTSA Shuts Down Jeep Liberty Fire Probe

March 18, 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it was closing its Jeep Liberty fire investigation, which they opened in October 2013, without asking for a recall.

The NHTSA started an investigation into the 2012 Jeep Liberty SUV last year after receiving two complaints about smoke emanating from the driver’s door followed by flames. According to the agency, both drivers who reported the problem were forced to stop the vehicle and get out through the passenger door. The fire was believed to have been caused by the master power window switch.

The first complaint was made in May 2012 by the owner of a six-month-old Liberty. The driver, who was traveling with his two children at the time of the incident, saw burning black smoke come from the driver’s door. He told the NHTSA that the window switches melted and collapsed into the door.

The second complaint was made in March over a February 2012 incident. In this case, the complainant was driving his wife’s five-month-old Liberty when the door caught fire. He claimed that he burned his fingers in his attempt to open the door.

In addition to the fire, the complainants also noted problems with the windows and door locks, saying that these activated on their own during the fire.

The agency’s investigation covered 104,000 Jeep Liberty SUVs. These were built by Chrysler Group LLC. It was initially believed that 80,000 of the SUVs could possibly be recalled.

As the investigation proceeded, the NHTSA discovered that one of the reported fires was not a result of the switch failure. According to evidence, fire did not start at the door panel area; rather, it originated in the dashboard. The agency also found that the Jeep Liberty was not the only vehicle equipped with the switch. Other Chrysler Group products, totaling 425,000 vehicles, also used the same switch. These include the 2011 Jeep Liberty, 2011 Dodge Nitro, 2011 Dodge Caravan and 2011 Chrysler Town & Country.

In their probe, the NHTSA learned that there were 265 warranty claims for the power master switches for all vehicles equipped with these. Only one reported fire thought to be related to the switch. There were two other reports of fires, this time involving Chrysler minivans, but it was not confirmed if the fires were also caused by the switches.

The agency then concluded that a recall was unnecessary as the rate of fires was low. It said that “the overall failure rate for the (switch) which was used in a large population of vehicles, appears to be low, and the failure rate for those that resulted in fires is even lower.” They also said that the data does not suggest the existence of a trend that points to a serious defect problem.

This is not the first time this year that the NHTSA closed a probe involving Chrysler and its vehicles. Two months ago, the agency closed the book regarding what is known as the ‘trailer hitch’ recall, which involves Jeep Liberty and Grand Cherokee models. In 2013, the agency requested that the automaker recall the 2.7 million affected units with the rear axle fuel tanks. Chrysler defied the request, instead performing a ‘voluntary campaign,’ wherein the automaker will install trailer hitches on affected vehicles.

Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA

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