Jeep Grand Cherokee: ABC Station Reported On Gas Tank Fires Year Before NHTSA Investigation

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Sheridan said because the plastic fuel tank is in the rear of the Jeep -- and unprotected in some models -- a vehicle that hits it from behind and slides under the bumper could tear the tank open.

"You have a situation where the gas, the raw gas, is sloshing into the interior of the vehicle and coating everything with gasoline," he explained.

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"[It] seems like common sense that you wouldn't put a fuel tank in the crush zone," said Daniels. "Yes it does from a safety point of view," said Sheridan.

Kline's death is not the only one linked to a fiery Jeep Grand Cherokee accident. At WTVD's request, the Center for Auto Safety analyzed data gathered by NHTSA. It says it found more than 60 deaths in accidents involving fires or explosions and Grand Cherokees manufactured between 1993 and 2004. Quality Control Systems Corp., a statistical analysis firm contracted by WTVD, said that its analysis of NHTSA data showed that fatal rear accidents reported for Grand Cherokees made between 1993 and 2004 were three times more likely to involve fires than were fatal rear accidents involving comparable SUVs made during the same period.

Chrysler told WTVD in 2009 it rejected the Center for Auto Safety analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data -- saying it "does not contain all relevant accurate data [about the accidents] that is needed to make a valid conclusion." It also said that the Quality Control Systems Corp. analysis was "simplistic" and "invalid," and said it was "confident that a proper study which considered all factors in all fatal collisions…would show that the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees perform as well as or better than other vehicles in their class."

Since 1993, Chrysler has offered as an option for the Grand Cherokee a skid plate that provides some protection for the gas tank. Chrysler says the skid plate is intended for customers "who want to do more severe off-road driving" to protect the tanks from rocks and boulders.

Beginning in 1999, a fuel tank brush guard was included as standard equipment in Cherokees that were not fitted with the skid plate. Chrysler said this was to protect the tank against brush and small rocks that might be encountered in "light duty off road driving."

In 2005, Daimler-Chrysler redesigned the vehicle and moved the tank to the middle of the Grand Cherokee. The automaker told WTVD it did that to make more room for storage space inside.

Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said safety concerns about the gas tank's position did not play a part in the decision to move it.

Chrysler declined WTVD's requests for an on-camera interview.

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"It is important to note that the data you are attempting to analyze reflects real world operation over a 10-year period in which more than two and a half million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees were on the road and many, many millions of miles of safe operation were experienced by our customers," said Chrysler in a statement. "The 1993-2004 Jeep Grand meets or exceeds federal safety standards and has an excellent safety record."

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