WASHINGTON -- The Jeep Grand Cherokee from the 1993 to 2004 model years may be investigated by federal safety regulators after a complaint that its fuel tank is an exposed fire hazard that may have contributed to hundreds of deaths.
Last month the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety complained that the SUV's fuel tank extends below the rear bumper and is inadequately protected from crashes and rollovers.
The vehicle's fuel filler neck also tears off in crashes, said the center's petition for an investigation and recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is deciding whether enough evidence exists to support opening an investigation of the 3 million Jeeps whose models fall within the 11-year period, the agency said on its Web site.
NHTSA's "defect petition," which began Friday, Nov. 6, can take months or even years.
Overall, this is NHTSA's seventh pre-investigative review of an alleged defect since Jan. 1, 2008, an agency spokesman said.
NHTSA, a unit of the U.S. Transportation Department, said it has received reports of a dozen Jeep Grand Cherokee crashes involving a fuel tank leak or a fire potentially related to this kind of leak.