Does Chrysler have massive safety recalls brewing?

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A late-August New York Times article has raised the possibility that there is a massive auto defect recall lurking at Chrysler. Unfortunately this is only the beginning of the bad news for the company since it also appears that the company may be facing an ignition switch recall due to the increased scrutiny following the GM ignition switch recall. This possibility for a massive recall rivaling GM’s has only increased with the Center for Auto Safety’s (CAS) defect petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). With the petition, the NHTSA is now required by federal law to investigate so that it can be determined if a full investigation should be opened.

What is the defect CAS is asking the NHTSA to investigate?

The CAS defect petition is focused on a part known as a totally Integrated Power Module (TIPM). The TIPM is typically located under the vehicle’s hood near the battery. The TIPM regulates power to many of the vehicle’s systems including the headlights, steering, brakes, alarms, airbags, security systems in more. In short, the device is something of the power control center for the entire vehicle. A TIPM has been increasingly present in many, if not most, Chrysler vehicles that have been manufactured since 2007.

CAS believes the there is a widespread TIPM defect that causes undesired, and seemingly random, electrical operation in affected vehicles. Owners of affected vehicles describe the problems as such:

Radio system & lights, gauge lights, and turn signals cut off while in the middle of driving. AC/HEAT would not work. Vehicle had a hard time turning over to start. We were told it was because our battery was low. we replaced battery and all systems still periodically fail. Vehicle still fails to start sometimes.

-Katherine Romano, 2010 Dodge Journey

Another complaint contained in the petition states:

Horn blares, wipers start running while off, won’t shift out of 1st gear, A/C blower stops working, engine cooling fan stops running, brake, reverse, and park lights flickering, locks lock and unlock on own fob won’t work on them, power steering goes out, gauges go nuts, ruined my battery the last time it happened, happens regularly about every 2 to 3 weeks have found it is faulty TIPM that is always on backorder or has been since 10/2012 when I first had the problem occur

-Kristi Dodd, 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan

CAS has summed up the problem as such, “The (power module) is in millions of 2007-14 Chrysler vehicles and fails at such high frequency that Chrysler has run out of replacement parts…Consumers are faced with a terrible dilemma – park the vehicle until parts are available or ride at risk of being in an deadly crash.”

Will Chrysler also be burned by an ignition switch recall?

The latest Chrysler ignition switch recall, announced in September 2014, expanded previous recalls to include the Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander SUVs, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans and 2008 Dodge Magnum wagons. However, this is not Chrysler’s first ignition switch recall. Previous recalls have included:

  • 2011 – Approximately 200,000 vehicles were recalled. Affected vehicles were model years 2007 through 2009 and included the Dodge Caravan and Journey and the Chrysler Town & Country.
  • 2014 – The 2011 recall was expanded after the GM ignition switch recall was announced. Nearly 700,000 vehicles were recalled.
  • July 2014 – Model year 2005 to 2007 vehicles were recalled including 792,300 Jeep Commander and Grand Cherokee SUVs

What happens next for Chrysler is rather unclear and dependent upon what NHTSA investigations reveal. A Full investigation of the TIPM problem could cost the company hundreds of million of dollars. A more expansive ignition switch recall could likewise result in significant costs for the company. However, it is a bedrock principle of products liability law that manufacturers should be held liable for the damages caused by an unreasonably dangerous or defective product. The results of NHTSA investigations will provide insight into whether the agency has learned some hard, but needed, lessons about protecting consumer safety from the botched GM recalls.

 

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