The placement of fuel tanks on passenger vehicles has changed over the past three decades, and for good reason.
Automakers gradually have repositioned the tank to an area in front of the rear axle, generally below the rear passenger seat. Statistically speaking, the tank in that location is less vulnerable in a high-speed, rear-end crash than in the previous location -- between the rear bumper and axle.
Fiery crashes of the Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat in the 1970s prompted automakers to rethink how to protect the gasoline tank.
Now fuel tanks are in the news again. Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a preliminary investigation of 3.1 million 1993-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokees to determine whether the plastic tank, check valve and fuel filler hose fail in rear-end crashes and rollovers, releasing gasoline that catches fire.
These days, all automakers place the tank within the frame, ahead of the rear axle. The only exceptions are the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car.
But those 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees have the old configuration: The fuel tank is between the rear bumper and axle.
"While I think the dangers of aft placement are exaggerated, its just good, normal practice to place it inboard on all cars and trucks," says a former Detroit 3 executive who asked not to be identified.