2002 Jeep Liberty

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded and upgraded its investigation into the cause of fuel tank fires in about 5.1 million Jeep SUVs built between 1993 and 2007. “NHTSA said it has records of 15 fatalities and 46 injuries in crashes that included fuel-tank failures,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

NHTSA’s investigation is probing into claims that it’s more common for certain Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Liberty models to catch fire when they’ve been rear-ended. That’s because these SUVs have their gas tank placed between the rear axle and the rear bumper, according to Jalopnik, who notes that the setup is similar to that of the infamous Ford Pinto. Investigators think that in a rear-end crash, it’s more likely for a fuel tank to be punctured or for a fuel filler pipe to leak in vehicles that use this fuel tank placement.

Though a recall has not yet been issued, the investigation applies to the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokee and the 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty. Chrysler Group said in a statement that it had conducted an independent study of the issue, and that the Grand Cherokee isn’t at any higher risk of fire than similar SUVs.

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Still, The New York Times reports that when NHTSA upgrades an investigation to an Engineering Analysis, as it did in this case, a recall usually follows. “In a review by Wheels of 26 engineering analyses by the agency over roughly the last two years, 18 were found to have resulted in recalls,” The New York Times writes. “The other eight ended without action.”

If you own a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Cherokee or Liberty, you can keep an eye on NHTSA’s website for more information. Automakers notify owners in the event of a recall, but you can also visit www.safercar.gov, call Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403 or call NHTSA’s vehicle safety hotline at 1-888-327-4236.

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