Lewis Diuguid

Chrysler refusal of voluntary recall could turn ugly

Chrysler is setting itself up for a head-on game of chicken with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The federal agency asked Chrysler to voluntarily recall Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007 because of a risk of a fuel tank fire in a rear-end collision. Chrysler refused.

That’s a huge number of vehicles — 2.7 million — and the cost of fixing the problem would be just as big for the automaker, which is majority owned by Italy’s Fiat SpA, The Associated Press reports. The automaker with federal help clawed its way back from the financial brink during the Great Recession.

Making the multimillion-dollar fix could send Chrysler into a financial spiral again. But the danger and liability of those SUVs to their owners and passengers also is massive.

The National Highway Traffic Administration can order a recall and go to court to enforce it. An automaker’s refusal to comply is rare.