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Advocacy Group Asks For Chrysler Investigation

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 1:21pm
Tom Krisher, AP Auto Writer

An auto safety advocacy group has asked the U.S. government to investigate power system failures in Chrysler vehicles that could cause them to stall while being driven.

The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit group founded by Ralph Nader, filed a petition Friday asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the probe.

The center contends that an electrical power control module used by Chrysler in millions of vehicles since 2007 can go haywire, causing them to stall in traffic and cut off devices powered by electricity. The allegation covers Ram pickup trucks, Chrysler and Dodge minivans, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Dodge Journey SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler, and other models.

The safety group says it has received over 70 complaints about the modules and that the government has received hundreds.

Chrysler said in a statement that it launched its own investigation into the problem before the petition was filed, and it is checking customer complaints and analyzing components. The company said its vehicles meet all applicable safety standards.

NHTSA said it is reviewing the auto safety center's petition.

The petition said that Chrysler's "Totally Integrated Power Module," which includes a computer, relays and fuses, distributes electrical power through the entire vehicle. In addition to stalling, the faulty modules have may have caused air bags not to inflate and fuel pumps to keep running, causing unintended acceleration and fires, the petition said.

Clarence Ditlow, the center's executive director, said the modules are in about 7 million Chrysler vehicles. The company, he said, started phasing them out in 2012, but they remain in the 2014 Jeep Wrangler and the Dodge and Chrysler minivans.

Car owners and advocacy groups can petition the NHTSA asking for investigations that sometimes lead to recalls. The Center for Auto Safety has successfully petitioned NHTSA in the past, including one instance that led to the recent recall of 1.56 million older Jeep SUVs with fuel tanks mounted behind the rear axles. The center contended the tanks can leak fuel and cause fires in a crash, while Chrysler maintains the tanks perform as well as comparable models from other automakers.

In the past four years, NHTSA has been slow to act on most petitions. A review of the 15 petitions filed since 2010 by The Associated Press showed that in 12 cases, the agency took longer than the 120-day legal deadline to decide on an investigation.

NHTSA said the petitions often cover complex issues and the agency often needs more time to make a decision.

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