Experts say Jeep fuel tank issue has no easy fix

Richard Truett
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

Published: June 10, 2013 12:22 pm ET
Updated: June 10, 2013 12:25 pm ET

Related to this story

Topics Automotive, Public Policy, Blow Molding

Nobody claims to have a foolproof modification to eliminate the alleged fire safety risk in 2.7 million 1993-2007 Jeeps that have put Chrysler Group at odds with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And each approach to the alleged problem has its shortcomings, according to the engineers who study such things.

Here's the challenge: The plastic fuel tanks in both the 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees and the 2002-2007 Libertys under scrutiny are located between the rear axle and the bumper. Rear-end collisions at high speeds can puncture the tank, causing fuel leaks and fires.

These days, because of tougher government standards for tank integrity, nearly all tanks are installed in front of the rear axle. But in the 1990s it was common for rear-wheel-drive vehicles to have fuel tanks positioned behind the rear axle.

Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., said: "No matter how much engineering you do, if you have a high-energy impact, you are not going to stop all fires, even on vehicles with tanks ahead of the axle."

Here are some of the potential solutions — and the new potential problems they create.

  •  Install a check valve in the fuel tank. A check valve shuts off the flow of fuel when a vehicle flips or the tank is dislodged. But fuel still could leak if the tank is punctured. (In one Grand Cherokee crash, a motorcyclist lost control and slid under the SUV and sliced open the tank, causing a fire. A check valve would not have prevented fuel from leaking in that case.)
  •  Modify the fuel filler and hoses to withstand rear-end crashes better. The fuel filler neck is integral to the tank and can't be easily modified. Fuel hoses could be modified, but fuel still could leak if the tank is ruptured.

It's not possible to relocate a retrofitted tank in front of the rear axle. There isn't enough space for the tank ahead of the axle, and the vehicles were not designed and crash-tested to comply with that layout.

Another nonstarter, cited in some media reports, is the installation of a skid plate under the tank for protection. But skid plates, such as the one Chrysler offered for off-road enthusiasts on the Grand Cherokee, are meant to protect the bottom of the tank from rocks and other off-road debris and aren't designed to deflect energy or prevent the tank from moving in a severe crash.

Also, attaching a skid plate so it wouldn't interfere with other parts could be problematic. And retrofitting a skid plate could introduce new safety problems in other types of crashes, such as side impacts, and would add weight, which could affect handling.

Perhaps the best option, should Chrysler decide or be forced to modify the fuel tank, would be to install a stronger tank with a flexible fuel filler neck, built-in check valve and modified fuel lines that would fit in the same space as the old tank.

A stronger tank could be designed to withstand the current government-mandated 50-mph rear-end collision without leaking. But the cost could reach $1 billion if Chrysler replaced tanks on 80 percent of the 2.7 million vehicles still on the road — a typical rate for recall repairs.

Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting, in Short Hills, N.J., said there's no obvious solution "without major surgery, which would be prohibitively expensive."


Comments

Experts say Jeep fuel tank issue has no easy fix

Richard Truett
AUTOMOTIVE NEWS

Published: June 10, 2013 12:22 pm ET
Updated: June 10, 2013 12:25 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Rail improvements also allow rotomolder to improve operations

July 24, 2014 3:10 pm ET

An infrastructure improvement grant from the U.S. Commerce Department is helping an Indiana plastics plant expand its product line and add jobs.    More

Image

Study: 100 times less plastic than expected polluting ocean surface

July 23, 2014 3:46 pm ET

There's as much as 100 times less plastic floating on surface of the world's oceans than would be expected given the mushrooming use of the material...    More

Image

Molder provides quality parts and quality work for disabled adults

July 23, 2014 2:40 pm ET

Coarc Manufacturing Inc. does injection molding, assembly and all of the work of traditional manufacturer, but it also serves as part of Coarc Inc. a ...    More

OSHA probes alleged asthma link to Lear's Selma, Ala., plant

July 23, 2014 11:58 am ET

U.S. foam manufacturer Renosol Seating LLC is being investigated following allegations its workers are at risk of asthma from TDI exposure at its...    More

Image

Plastics industry blasted for stance in green building debate

July 22, 2014 2:45 pm ET

The plastics industry has taken high-profile stance in the debate over green building standards. The result, today at least, is that it's getting some...    More

Market Reports

Injection Molders Market Report & Ranking 2014

This special package contains our 132-page 2014 Market Report on the Injection Molding segment and our exclusive 2014 RANKINGS database of 500+ Injection Molders for a discounted package price.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Market Review & Outlook 2014

This special report from Plastics News examines the North American plastics recycling industry and provides insight into indicators that impact market viability, including Resin pricing trends for virgin and recycled market material and historical Resin production trends for post- consumer and industrial waste.

Learn more

Shale Gas Market - Analysis of North American Region

This report highlights the impact of shale-based natural gas on the North American plastics market and features an in-depth analysis of production trends in the United States during 2013 and a forecast for 2014 and beyond.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events