DETROIT (AP) — Chrysler abruptly agreed to recall 2.7 million older model Jeeps Tuesday, reversing a defiant stance and avoiding a possible public relations nightmare over fuel tanks that can rupture and cause fires in rear-end collisions.
In deciding on the recall, Chrysler sidestepped a showdown with government safety regulators that could have led to public hearings with witnesses providing details of deadly crashes involving the Jeeps. The dispute ultimately could have landed in court and hurt Chrysler’s image and its finances.
The company said calls from customers concerned about the safety of their Jeeps played a part in its going along with the government’s request.
Earlier this month, the automaker publicly refused the government’s request to recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that monitors vehicle safety, contends the Jeep gas tanks can rupture if hit from the rear, spilling gas and causing a fire. NHTSA said a three-year investigation showed 51 people had died in fiery crashes in Jeeps with gas tanks positioned behind the rear axle.
Chrysler had until Tuesday to formally respond to NHTSA.
Two weeks ago, Chrysler said the vehicles aren’t defective, despite prior statements to the contrary from NHTSA. The company vouched for the vehicles’ safety again Tuesday.
Chrysler said dealers will inspect the vehicles and install trailer hitches to protect the gas tanks. The company said vehicles without hitches will get them, as will those with broken hitches or hitches that aren’t from Chrysler.