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June 5th, 2013
06:14 PM ET

Watchdog: Certain older Chrysler Jeeps have the worst defect since the Pinto

In a rare rebuff of the U.S. government, Chrysler Group is refusing a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration request for a recall of 2.7 million SUVs.

The auto safety agency says the gas tank design used in the 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee and the 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberty is unsafe.

NHTSA concluded there were 44 deaths involving rear impact fire crashes with Jeep Grand Cherokees and seven with the Jeep Liberty.

But Chrysler has no plans to issue a recall, saying the government’s analysis is inaccurate.

But Clarence Ditlow, the director of the Center for Auto Safety who is pressing the government for a recall, sees things very differently.

In fact, Ditlow says the problem with the earlier model Jeep brands as “the most serious fire defect since the old Ford Pinto."

During the 1970s, images of flaming Pintos were seared into the public consciousness.

"It's the same problem [as the Pinto], the gas tank is behind the rear, and in a rear impact, that gas tank can rupture," said Ditlow. "This is a family vehicle, there are kids in the backseat of these Jeeps and the kids are being burned to death in child seats, I mean this is a horrible defect."

Chrysler said in a statement that its own analysis “shows the incidents, which are the focus of this request, occur less than once for every million years of vehicle operation. This rate is similar to comparable vehicles produced and sold during the time in question."

Ditlow disputed Chrysler and said the Jeeps in question are much worse than comparable vehicles.

"The Grand Cherokee alone is 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal rear impact than the Ford Explorer, and that's according to data submitted by Chrysler to the government," said Ditlow.

Chrysler is defending its refusal to recall the vehicles on grounds that it costs too much, said Ditlow.

"It will cost $300 million in a recall, but Chrysler got $10 billion from the federal government in the bailout," said Ditlow. "Chrysler owes the government and the public a recall."

The federal government provided loans and grants to the distressed automaker in 2009 and taxpayers owned part of the company for a time after that. Chrysler is now controlled by Italy’s Fiat.

The Transportation Department must now decide how to respond to Chrysler. It would have to go to court to force any recall.

CNN readers and viewers who have questions on this recall can call 1-877-426-5337.

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