Federal safety regulators last week added about 2 million Jeeps to an investigation of potential fire hazards.
A consumer safety group says the problem could be fixed for about $100 per vehicle with a skid plate and other parts available from Chrysler Group. But the automaker said the skid plate is inadequate to prevent fires after crashes.
In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into 3 million 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees to determine whether reports of more than a dozen post-crash fires are connected to the fuel tank placement.
Last week, NHTSA broadened its examination to include 1993-2001 Jeep Cherokees and 2002-07 Libertys, and stepped up the level of the investigation to engineering analysis.
NHTSA said last week that it had received 26 reports of fires on Jeeps struck from behind, involving 46 injuries and at least 15 deaths.
The vehicle fuel tanks are behind the rear axle and -- because of the off-road vehicles' increased ride height -- more exposed below the rear bumper.
The Center for Auto Safety, a Washington consumer group that first petitioned NHTSA in 2009 to recall all 1993-2004 Grand Cherokees, says Chrysler could fix the Jeeps in question for about $100 each.
The group says that a steel skid plate around the tank, as well as a check valve in the tank and improvements to the filler hoses would fix the problem. The plate already is available from Chrysler.
A Chrysler spokesman said the Jeeps' fuel tank location is acceptable to NHTSA and has been tested. The spokesman said the skid plate was designed to protect from debris, not high-impact crashes.
If a recall is ordered, Chrysler would be required by law to fix vehicles for free only within 10 years of their manufacture.