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Braking System Problems and Fire Hazards


Recalls announced this summer by Chrysler affect well over half a million Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country vehicles. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the manufacturer has recalled Jeeps in model years 2007 through 2010 that are subject to brake fluid leaks, and some minivans from 2007 and 2009 that have wiring problems in sliding doors that could lead to fires.

These two problems go to the heart of drivers’ worst fears: an inability to stop when necessary and the possibility of being trapped in a burning family vehicle. In this case, the widespread recall may be working as intended, as neither vehicle problem has yet been linked to an accident or injury. But the recent news about Chrysler brake fluid leaks and fire hazards has reminded many industry watchers of the bad publicity the manufacturer faced several years ago when its attempt to break into the highly competitive police vehicle market was bogged down by similar problems.

Latest Recalls Bring to Mind Dodge Intrepid Police Vehicle Fires

When Daimler-Chrysler submitted the Dodge Intrepid to the Michigan State Police for testing, the company was optimistic about re-entering a market that it had lost in the late 1980s to Chevrolet and Ford. But the rigorous tests that police departments use to simulate high-speed pursuit conditions proved the model’s undoing. The Michigan testing program reported that the brakes overheated and caught fire in one vehicle.

When the Metro Nashville Police took delivery of 50 vehicles to update their fleet, they selected two for immediate testing on their course. The result: “Open flames in the front wheel wells,” according to the local police union president. Two more brand new vehicles were tested in front of Daimler Chrysler officials with the same result, but the company responded that the vehicles had not been subjected to a proper break-in period.

Even worse, a local park ranger on slow patrol suddenly experienced the same problem. Leaking brake fluid was being ignited when it made contact with overheated bolts that held the calipers and brake pads in place. The department’s legal advisor advised the Nashville Police to ground the fleet, and the Intrepid proved to be too timid for the demanding conditions required by law enforcement.

Hazardous Design Problems Demand Immediate Attention and Legal Action

The purchasing power and testing resources available to police departments and other large-volume buyers help them ensure that their employees and the public are protected. When consumers are faced with chronic vehicle problems, working with a dealership to get the issue fixed can be frustrating and time-consuming. But these nuisances pale in comparison to the harm suffered by an injury victim or surviving family members after a design or manufacturing defect leads to a catastrophic car accident.

NHTSA’s imperfect system collects data about the frequency of incidents and slowly turns its attention to the problem. As was the case with recent Toyota accelerator problems, the manufacturer may react very quickly, but only insofar as it tries to suppress the problem or oppose bureaucratic changes. But there is one other important check on the auto industry: civil liability.

By filing legal claims against negligent automobile companies, personal injury and wrongful death plaintiffs address not only their personal need for compensation for the harm they suffered. They also hold corporations accountable for their actions and thereby help make America’s streets and highways safer. A consultation with a lawyer who understands these complex legal actions can help you understand your full range of legal options, as well as your prospects for recovery.