The NHTSA has launched a preliminary investigation into the power steering system of the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee after receiving three complaints from owners – two of which results in an engine bay fire and another that resulted in total loss of power steering assist. All three of these reports have occurred in the past two months with the most significant incident coming on June 13th, when a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee with just 35 miles on the ticker was completely destroyed by a fire that began under the hood.
According to the owner/driver, this 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee was traveling down the road at roughly 50 miles per hour when they noticed smoke in the rear view mirror as well as in the side mirrors. The driver immediately pulled the Grand Cherokee to the side of the road and as they climbed out of the vehicle, massive flames began pouring coming from under the hood. A second fire in the engine compartment of a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee did not result in a total loss of the vehicle but the owner stated that he had noticed power steering fluid in his driveway prior to the vehicle catching fire. You have to wonder why he waited to report it until after the vehicle caught fire as, if it was my brand new SUV, I would have had it back at the dealership in a heartbeat.
Anyways, a third complaint since May indicated that a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee began leaking power steering fluid and after a short time, the vehicle lost all power steering assist. While this is nowhere near as severe as a fire in the engine bay, losing power steering in the right conditions can certainly increase the chances of an accident.
Power steering fluid is flammable and the power steering system in the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is under pressure, relying on a system of hoses to move the fluid to and from the steering rack assembly and the steering pump. The NHTSA believes that one of those hoses could be at fault for these fires and if the feds find a faulty hose – they could instruct Chrysler to issue a recall to change the hose in question. That is a fairly easy fix (should that be the case) but recalls are costly regardless of how easy they are – both in financial terms and in terms of a hit to the popularity and reputation of the vehicle. Luckily, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the bestselling sport utility vehicles in the history of the American auto industry so, provided that these fire issues do not become more common, this could be an issue that Chrysler addresses quickly and moves on. Of course, that is all depending on the findings of the NHTSA.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could take a few months to decide whether to progress to the next level in their investigation, which would be an engineering analysis. That is often the final step before a recall is ordered but often, these investigations can end with no fault found with the vehicles in question. This investigation includes 106,803 vehicles but further analysis of the problem could narrow that number if specific factors are to be found with certain drivetrain features (V6, V8, etc).
Should the NHTSA find that there is a problem worthy of requiring a recall, it will be interesting to see if other model years or perhaps the Dodge Durango is also included in that recall. The Durango is mechanically identical to the Grand Cherokee so it would make sense that a problem with the Jeep would also be a problem with the Durango. However, those fire reports have only included Jeep models so perhaps (and hopefully, for Chrysler), any problems found are specific to a single model.