At the Detroit auto show this week, I ran into a friend who works at Fiat Chrysler. After we exchanged pleasantries, he asked me very seriously if I’ve taken my vintage Jeep Grand Cherokee to the dealer for an inspection and possible trailer hitch installation.
As a matter of fact, no I haven’t.
And it’s not Fiat Chrysler’s fault.
FCA has been a nagging but well-meaning aunt, bugging me regularly to bring the Jeep in for an inspection. FCA has called, written, and emailed. The company has even dangled a $100 prepaid credit card I can spend any way I want, anywhere I want.
The reason for the urgency is clear. In certain very rare rear-end crashes, the Jeep’s fuel tank can puncture and a fire can start. If a trailer hitch is installed, it can help reduce the risk of a fire.
After much wrangling between both sides on the proper fix, a deal forged by FCA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to address the risk calls for Jeep dealers to inspect certain older Grand Cherokee and Liberty models. If they are not too corroded underneath, the trailer hitch will be installed, which adds a modicum of additional protection in front of the fuel tank, which is mounted under the rear floor, behind the axle.
So, why have I dragged my feet for about 18 months?
A trailer hitch for my 16-year old Jeep isn’t a priority, even if it’s free.
- I am not towing anything with it. Ever. Also, the hitch being offered isn’t complete. It doesn’t come with the electrical connection for the trailer brake lights, or the ball. The dealer can sell you these items, however. The hitch is strictly there to add a bit more protection around the fuel tank.
- The chances of me getting into the type of wreck with my Jeep that could cause the tank to rupture and me to perish are probably about the same as me winning the Powerball lottery. NHTSA documents show that fewer than one death -- 0.79 -- has been recorded for every 1 million vehicle years registered for my generation Grand Cherokee. That calculation comes from adding up all the affected Grand Cherokees and all the years they have been registered. My SUV, for instance, has been registered 16 times.
- It’s inconvenient to take the Jeep to the dealer for the inspection. I either have to wait two hours for the service, or leave it and retrieve it later. That means my wife has to follow me to the dealer and bring me back later. Or, I call a cab. Or I can wait. Or I can rent a car at the dealer. None of these options appeals to me.
- Most people, including me, don’t bring an older vehicle back to the dealer for service. Across the industry, on average, only about 65 percent of vehicles subject to a recall are repaired after 18 months. The rate for older vehiclesis about 50 to 60 percent. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says 20 percent of vehicles recalled can go unrepaired.
Two other factors are complicating my willingness to visit the dealer . First, the Jeep has been the best used vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s never needed anything I couldn’t easily fix myself, and I change my own oil. Perhaps, if my Jeep needed something I couldn’t fix, I would bundle the inspection with the repair. But the Jeep won’t break, and it doesn’t leak or misbehave in any way. It just works.
Second, Jeep’s U.S. sales are surging, up a full 25 percent last year alone. That means Jeep service departments are very busy places these days. During a week off last fall, after FCA prodded me for a third time, I did call my nearest dealer, about six miles away from home, and learned the service department was booked solid for the next two weeks. Since then, I have blown off every attempt by FCA to get me to bring the Jeep in.
And I am not the only one who’s ignoring FCA. As of last week, the company has initiated 15.3 million communications with owners of the affected vehicles.
Of the 746,558 affected Grand Cherokees still on the road, just 145,233 have been returned to the dealer for the inspection/hitch install, FCA says. The Liberty, which is newer, has had a better inspection/trailer hitch install rate. FCA has identified 852,140 affected Liberties and has processed 528,537 of them.
FCA is getting its ears boxed by NHTSA because people like me ignore the pleas. FCA spokesman Eric Mayne says the automaker is doing everything possible to make the inspection procedure go smoothly. He says the automaker has 200,000 hitches sitting on shelves waiting to be installed.
It wasn’t his intention, but just by bringing it up, my friend at FCA shamed me into getting the Jeep inspected. On Thursday, I called the dealer closest to me again. The store’s service department has a new appointment system and is now running more efficiently, the service writer said. I can bring my Jeep in any time now.
My plan is to make an appointment, get the hitch installed and then use the $100 to have the store install the electrical connection and ball. If the Jeep is tow-ready, the next owner of my Grand Cherokee may pay more for it.