The 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a massively popular vehicle, with some 3 million sold over the eleven year period. Left Lane News tells us that the Center for Auto Safety (founded by Ralph Nader) is pressuring the NHTSA to look into post crash fires, stemming from a fuel tank defect, in these Grand Cherokee models. To date, the CAS claims that 172 accidents have resulted in 254 fire related deaths in the 1993 – 2004 Grand Cherokee.
The NHTSA was quick to point out that the existence of post-crash fires doesn’t necessarily indicate a design defect, but agreed that further investigation was necessary before a conclusion could be reached. Their own figures are quite a bit lower than those reported by the CAS; the NHTSA has record of just 10 crashes involving gas tank fires, resulting in 13 deaths. The disparity in the data scares me more than anything else; if the CAS is correct, whose minding the store at the NHTSA?
Whatever the outcome, here’s some free advice: if you drive one of these Grand Cherokees, take a look underneath and make sure that no bolts are likely to rupture the gas tank in a rear end collision. Carry a fire extinguisher (in an approved car mount) and carry a LifeHammer or similar device that can cut seat belt webbing and break window glass. No matter how long the odds are, I can’t think of a worse way to punch out than being trapped in a burning car.