By TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN
DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ After initially defying federal regulators, Chrysler abruptly agreed Tuesday to recall some older-model Jeeps with fuel tanks that could rupture and cause fires in rear-end collisions.
But the recall, which came in an 11th-hour deal between the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, covers only 1.56 million of the 2.7 million Jeeps that the government wanted repaired. The rest are part of a "customer service action" and many may not get fixed.
By giving in to government pressure, Chrysler sidesteps a showdown with NHTSA that could have led to public hearings with witnesses providing details of deadly crashes. The dispute could have landed in court and hurt Chrysler's image and its finances.Yet the deal still leaves some Jeep owners with gas tanks that NHTSA just two weeks ago said were risky. Chrysler maintains that they are safe and need no repairs. 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. NHTSA, the U.S. 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, but the deal made the response unnecessary. Here's how the recall will work, according to Chrysler: â¿¿ The company will recall 1.56 million Libertys from 2002 through 2007 and Grand Cherokees from 1993 through 1998. If they don't have factory or Chrysler "Mopar" trailer hitches, dealers will install them. The heavy metal hitches bolt to the frame and help bolster protection for the gas tank.