NHTSA opens review of 4.9 million Chrysler vehicles

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has agreed to review a request to open a formal investigation into 4.9 million 2007-14 Chrysler vehicles over electronic failures that may be linked to engine stalling, air bag non-deployments, unintended acceleration or vehicle fires.

In August, the Center for Auto Safety petitioned NHTSA to open a formal investigation into Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans over allegations of failures surrounding the Totally Integrated Power Module, focused on a version known as TIPM-7. As part of its review of the petition, NHTSA sent Chrysler a detailed list of questions last Monday and gave the Auburn Hills unit of Fiat Chrysler Group NV until Nov. 25 to respond. The module controls most of the electronic functions in the vehicle.

NHTSA will decide whether to open a formal defect investigation after it finishes its review of the petition.

In early September, Chrysler said it was recalling 188,000 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVS because they may experience a failure in the fuel pump relay within the totally integrated power module, which can result in a failure to start or stall condition. Chrysler said the root cause has been identified as deformation of a contact spring due to the heat caused by power, ambient temperature around the fuel pump relay, and battery voltage. Chrysler said if the vehicle stalls it will maintain power to the air bags. The recall covers vehicles with the TIPM-7 modules, but Chrysler’s recall said the module itself wasn’t defective, but a relay within the module.

Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne said Monday the company is investigating.

Chrysler told NHTSA in September its investigation was prompted in October 2013 when module parts went on national backorder. Chrysler did an analysis of 10 fuel pump relays as it investigated the issue. Chrysler will install a new fuel pump relay outside the module.

Separately, some Chrysler owners have filed a federal lawsuit in California and lawyers have asked a judge to issue a preliminary injunction requiring Chrysler to warn its customers “of a potentially dangerous condition in their vehicles — a condition that Chrysler had denied but — cannot wait. The risk of serious injury from widespread TIPM failures and stalling is too high to justify keeping Chrysler’s customers in the dark any longer. There is little harm in providing Chrysler’s customers with information so they can take precautionary measures during the litigation, but the consequences of not acting could be severe,” wrote David Stein, a lawyer at San Francisco law firm Girard Gibbs LLP.

Center for Auto Safety executive director Clarence Ditlow said the “Chrysler’s TIPM is a computer run amok — owners report that their vehicles act as if possessed and leave them in dangerous situations — stalled vehicles stranded without warning on the highway, fuel pumps that won’t shut off, windows that open and shut, air bags that won’t deploy.”

He argued that the issue is another example of a potential electronic defect that shows NHTSA needs more expertise in vehicle electronics.


Factbox head

General Motors Co. is issuing two new recalls for about 900 2015 Chevrolet Corvettes, bringing its tally for recalls this year to at least 78 campaigns in North America. GM knows of no crashes, injuries or fatalities related to either condition.

One recall covers 89 Chevrolet Corvettes in the United States for a possible driver air bag separation issue.The air bag module back plate could crack in a crash, which could allow the air bag’s retention wire to separate from the steering wheel. GM said it had not approved the supplier’s decision to change the process for the seventh-generation Corvette. Dealers will replace the air bag.

The second recall covers 783 Corvettes in which only one of the parking brake cables may have been fully seated on one of the rear brake drums. Since the service procedure was released Sept. 29, more than half — 57 percent — have been inspected and repaired as necessary.

David Shepardson