The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ended two investigations facing the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV and 2004-05 Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans, eliminating the need for recalls. In both instances, the dangers that prompted the investigations were not deemed substantial enough to pose a legitimate risk to owners. The problem facing Jeep was a faulty power steering hose, which was linked to incidences of vehicle fires, while Ford was experiencing issues with its tire-changing jack, which had the potential to fail.
The investigation into Chrysler’s Jeep brand was started in July of 2012, covering a total of 107,000 SUVs equipped with a faulty power steering hose that could burst, leaking coolant out into the engine bay, which could ignite if introduced to a hot surface on the engine or exhaust. In each of the 24 registered complaints, failures were caused by a dislodged fin inside the hose; a problem long since identified and corrected by Jeep and its power steering hose supplier, Dana. Upon a closer examination of the five complaints claiming fires, it was also determined that the defective hoses held no responsibly, and that smoke and flames developed because of other singular and unique circumstances.
Because of these findings, the NTHSA has ruled that the issues stemming from the faulty hoses, which were only implemented into vehicles built over a short period in November of 2012, were not serious enough to merit a recall. Even in situations where hoses were ruptured and coolant was leaked, there was virtually no possibility for the coolant to come into contact with a heated surface. A free hose replacement for owners of vehicles with defective ones installed is already covered by warranty from Chrysler as well, meaning those who remain at risk have the chance to correct the issue without incident.
Ford’s issues centered on the jack included with the two minivan models, which could allegedly fail at the jack’s slotted hinge joints, suddenly dropping vehicles back onto the ground. The jack is found on more than 200,000 minivans included in the NHTSA’s investigation, along with another 220,000 2003 Ford Windstars and 2006-07 Freestars and Mercury Montereys. Six complaints as jack failure were filed directly with the federal safety agency, and Ford themselves had reports of 26 more incidences, including four injuries and one fatality.
In the fatality case, a man was reportedly working on the minivan’s engine from underneath it when the jack failed, crushing him. In examining the circumstances, the NTHSA was unable to determine whether the vehicle was adequately choked or if the parking brake had been properly set, making it impossible to determine if the fault rested on the jack, or its improper usage. Additional research into failure reports showed that in more than half of the complaints filed, the jack was being used for things other than its intended purpose, changing tires; working on the van’s engine for example. More than half were also being used with improper care, without an engaged parking brake or choked wheel to prevent a potential rollaway.
Based on these findings, the NHTSA was unable to identify a consistent safety threat necessitating a recall. A similar jack failure rate amongst other minivans like those in the investigation also highlighted a lack of extra danger facing owners. Since the onset of the investigation in 2011, just one additional complaint was issued to the NHTSA, further suggesting that the dangers were not structural, and rather based on user error. After a year of heightened recalls across the industry, Ford and Chrysler are fortunate to start off 2013 with positive news; their reputations for quality and safety can remain intact; at least for now.