NHTSA to Punish Fiat Chrysler Over Slow Car Recalls
Following a public hearing on July 2, 2015, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has “tentatively concluded” that Fiat Chrysler mishandled 23 recalls of approximately 11 million defective vehicles. The automaker was accused of failing to notify consumers of defective parts in their vehicles in a reasonable amount of time, failing to notify the U.S. government about defects, repeatedly failing to make enough parts available for parts to dealerships to make the repairs, and using repairs that don’t actually solve the problem.
The NHTSA has not yet announced any specific punishments for Fiat Chrysler, but it’s expected an announcement could be made as early as this month. One possible punishment would involve Fiat Chrysler paying up to $805 million in fines, or up to $35 million for each of the recalls. Fiat Chrysler could also be ordered to buy back defective vehicles or to replace the recalled vehicles.
Some of the problems that prompted these 23 recalls include alternator failure, wiring problems in vanity mirrors that could cause a fire, a fuel heaters that can leak, an ignition switches that can unintentionally move out of position while the car is being driven, and airbags that can deploy unintentionally. Some of the recalled vehicles were made as far back as 1993. For a complete list of recalls included in this hearing, the NHTSA has a list available on their website complete with the specific concerns the NHTSA had in each case.
The most well-known recall case included in the public hearing was the June 2013 recall of 1.56 million 1993-1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-2007 Jeep Liberty vehicles. These vehicles have fuel tanks placed in a way that increases the risk of a fire if the vehicle is struck from behind. Center for Auto Study Director Clarence Ditlow said this case, “represents the worst of Fiat Chrysler.” He pointed out that Fiat Chrysler initially did not want to do the recall and failed to notify the NHTSA about the problem despite the fact that they had settled 44 lawsuits regarding it since 1993. The defect has been linked to over 50 deaths.
During the hearing, Fiat Chrysler was repeatedly accused of not making recall parts available in a timely manner, a move that prompted Ditlow to say Fiat Chrysler treats owner notifications, “…like a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card which can put the actual recall on hold forever.” In the case of the recalled Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberties, it was six months before they even selected a manufacturer to make the repair part. Two years after beginning the recalls for these vehicles, only 5.9% of the Grand Cherokees and 25% of the Liberties have had the repair made.
“People die when manufacturers fail to remedy recalled vehicles,” said Ditlow. Since the recall of these vehicles began on June 3, 2013, 20 more deaths have occurred in the recalled Jeep vehicles, one of whom was Kayla White. White was 8 months pregnant when she died on November 11, 2014 after her 2003 Jeep caught on fire after being hit from behind. She had attempted to have the repair made to her vehicle, but was unable to.
The NHTSA does not typically hold public hearings over defective products. Prior to the Fiat Chrysler hearing, the last hearing of this type was about three years ago and involved a manufacturer of motorcycle brakes. However, the NHTSA is considering holding another public hearing in the fall regarding the recent Takata airbag recalls.