Fiat Chrysler must offer to buy back from customers more than 500,000 Ram pickup trucks in the biggest such action in U.S. history as part of a costly deal with safety regulators to settle legal problems in about two-dozen recalls.
The trucks, which are the company’s top-selling vehicle, have defective steering parts that can cause drivers to lose control, and some previous repairs have been unsuccessful. So to get them off the roads, Fiat Chrysler agreed to the buyback, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Owners also have the option of getting them repaired, the agency said in documents released Sunday.
Also, owners of more than a million older Jeeps with vulnerable rear-mounted gas tanks will be able to trade in their vehicles for more than market value or be paid to get them repaired, the agency said in a statement. The Jeeps’ fuel tanks are behind the rear axle and have little to shield them in a rear crash. They can rupture and spill gasoline, setting the vehicles on fire. At least 75 people have died in crash-related fires, although Fiat Chrysler maintains they are as safe as comparable vehicles from the same era.
Both the Jeep and Ram measures are part of a larger settlement between the government and the automaker that includes a record 5 million penalty, appointment of an independent recall monitor and strict federal oversight. It’s another step in NHTSA’s effort to right itself, getting more aggressive with automakers after several slow responses to safety troubles.
“Today’s action holds Fiat Chrysler accountable for its past failures, pushes them to get unsafe vehicles repaired or off the roads and takes concrete steps to keep Americans safer going forward,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the statement. The record civil fine, he said, puts automakers on notice that NHTSA will take action when recall laws aren’t followed.
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Chrysler Group will recall about 900,000 sport utility vehicles, its largest recall this year, weeks before a shareholder meeting called by its parent Fiat SpA to seek approval for their merger. Chrysler said some 2011-2014 models of Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango would be recalled to fix the wiring for vanity mirror lights in sun visors to prevent short circuits and fire. The latest recall is Chrysler’s second big recall in two weeks, with the company announcing on June 30 an expanded recall of 695,957 more vehicles over an ignition switch problem in North America.