NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, aka ODI, has outlined problems associated with 23 Fiat Chrysler recalls involving millions of vehicles. These recalls are for serious safety defects and “non-compliances.” These concern recalls for fuel systems that can catch fire in rear crashes, defective ignition switches that can disable a vehicle’s air bags and defective air bags that can unexpectedly explode. These safety defects have caused deaths and serious injuries.
Under the United States code, there are two essential requirements for a recall: so called notice and free remedy. “Notice” means that the manufacturer must tell NHTSA, vehicle owners, and dealers about the safety defect, the reason for the recall, and how owners can have their vehicles fixed. These notifications are public on the NHTSA website, www.safercar.gov, so anyone can look up the recalls for their vehicle or any other vehicle.
In most cases, according to NHTSA, “free remedy” means that the manufacturer must repair the recalled vehicles. The repair must be done adequately and within a reasonable time, which is not defined by the statute.
ODI now has three open investigations about FCA recalls. One of these investigations, known as Audit Query 14-003, involves two FCA recalls for a defective left tie rod assembly that can result in loss of vehicle control. Here, NHTSA received hundreds of complaints from owners reporting frustrations with obtaining service appointments and having their vehicles fixed. Owners complained that they were told it would be many months before their dealer would have parts to repair their vehicle. Tie rods, of course should be readily available.
In a damning assertion, ODI says it learned from a dealer – not from FCA – that Fiat Chrysler had suspended the recall campaigns and asked dealers to return repair parts for quality verification, preventing owners from having this defect repaired.
“When it comes to recalls, FCA is an outlaw. FCA conceals defects in order to avoid recalls. When forced to recall, FCA delays repairs for years and even refuses to do repairs,” said Clarence Ditlow the head of the Center for Auto Safety at the hearing.
“Take recalls 14V-438 on 2006-07 Jeep Commanders and 2005-07 Grand Cherokees and 14V-373 on 2008-10 Chrysler Town & Country, Grand Caravan and 2009-10 Journey for ignition switches that can get knocked out of the run position just like the now infamous Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion. One year after the recalls were announced, not a single vehicle has been repaired. FCA treats the 60-day interim Part 577 owner notification as a get out-of-jail free card which can put the actual recall on hold forever.”
A second NHTSA ODI investigation, involving recall 15V-046 and known as Recall Query 14-001, concerns recalls to address the potential for air bags to inadvertently deploy in Jeep vehicles. ODI received reports of vehicles continuing to have inadvertent air bag deployments after having their vehicles repaired to allegedly fix this defect. Put bluntly. Fiat Chrysler’s fix did not work and put customers in harm’s way.
A third open NHTSA investigation of Recall 14V-391, known as Recall Query 15-003, is to address ODI’s concerns with Fiat Chrysler’s fix for a fire hazard associated with headliner wiring in Jeep and Dodge vehicles. ODI has received complaints of fires occurring after vehicle owners had the recall repair performed.
In short, these investigations reflect NHTSA’s apparently well justified concerns over the timeliness and effectiveness of Fiat Chrysler’s recalls. NHTSA also have serious concerns with Fiat Chrysler’s notifications to owners and to NHTSA about its recalls. In every one of the 23 recalls, NHTSA claims it identified ways in which Fiat Chrysler failed to do its job.
“Fiat Chrysler has repeatedly failed to notify owners about recalls in a timely manner, in some cases weeks or months beyond the deadline to do so. Problems with the information that Fiat Chrysler reports—or in many cases, fails to report—to NHTSA are also widespread. Failing to keep NHTSA apprised of its recalls obstructs our ability to carry out our statutory oversight responsibilities,” said NHTSA in written testimony.
FCA responses at the public hearing was weak, at best verging on laughable and arrogant, to put it politely:
“First, I acknowledge that FCA US could have done better in carrying out the campaigns you have identified, said Scott Kunselman the newly and hastily appointed Senior Vice President for Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance at FCA US.
“Starting with my appointment last fall, I have dedicated myself and my team to strengthening our culture, to ensuring we focus on customer safety as a top priority and to establishing an environment of transparency with our customers and the Agency, Kunselman claimed.
“Frankly, recall execution is where we have fallen short. Our renewed efforts are aimed at making certain we exceed the requirements of our customers and surpass the expectations of the Agency. Accordingly, in our presentation to the Agency in June, we outlined a number of actions focused around four categories —
- improving campaign completion rates;
- increasing overall recall remedy effectiveness;
- timing and availability of parts;
- and communicating transparently with our customers, dealers and the Agency.
Well, yes but this was all done after the fact – after the problems became blatantly apparent. Large fines for sure are coming. As to Criminal charges – a distinct possibility here – we will wait and see.