Chrysler has agreed to conduct a "voluntary campaign" to inspect and, if needed, upgrade 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-07 Jeep Liberty SUVs to improve rear-collision protection. Chrysler had until today to respond to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety recall request due to fire risk.
Chrysler reasserted that by its analysis, the vehicles in question are "not defective and are among the safest in the peer group."
In early June, NHTSA stated that its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) found that the Grand Cherokee and Liberty are "poor performers" relative to competing SUVs on the market at the same time.
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The government agency and Chrysler have reached an agreement, under which the automaker "will conduct a voluntary campaign with respect to the vehicles in question that, in addition to a visual inspection of the vehicle will, if necessary, provide an upgrade to the rear structure of the vehicle to better manage crash forces in low-speed impacts."
A Chrysler spokesperson explained that technicians will be checking for a factory-sourced or Mopar trailer hitch assembly.
For the 1.56 million owners of affected 1993-1998 Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Liberty SUVs, if there is no hitch assembly, one will be installed to provide additional rear structure. If there is an aftermarket hitch or the Chrysler-sourced hitch assembly is worn, the dealership may choose to install a new one.
For 1999-2004 Grand Cherokees with an aftermarket hitch, dealerships will inspect and replace if there is a sharp edge or other objectionable characteristic. All other Grand Cherokees from this time period without a hitch or with a Chrysler-sourced hitch are considered fine and not involved in this action.
Chrysler would not speculate on how many hitches will be necessary to complete this retrofit.
Essentially, splitting the difference between a true recall and a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB), Chrysler will contact customers to invite them to a local dealership for inspection. (Search for recalls on your car.)
This isn't quite the upgrade that some safety advocates were calling for, which included frame rail reinforcements, fuel tank shields, and a check valve to shut off the flow of gasoline if the filler hose is pulled out of the fuel tank or filler neck. (Read: "Chrysler and NHTSA at odds over Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty recall request.") But Chrysler asserts that this hardware will provide additional protection in low-speed, rear-end impacts.
For more information, contact Chrysler customer service at: 877-426-5337.
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Updated: 6/19/13 to add more detail on inspection and upgrade.