October 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Crash-Test Video Is Vivid; Agency Response Muted It Could Be More Than A Year Before The Problem Is Fixed.

Knight-Ridder
 
Tags:auto

The dummies in the Chrysler crash videos can’t speak, but their message is clear:

The rear-door latches on many Chrysler minivans aren’t safe, and minivan owners should get them replaced as quickly as possible.

In a frightening video released Wednesday, two dummies, one the size of a 6-year-old child, were seen being violently ejected from the rear of a Chrysler minivan in a 30-mph crash test.

While the videotape, made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), defines the problem dramatically, federal safety officials have been less direct.

In a decision that outraged critics, NHTSA stopped short of branding Chrysler’s latches defective - a legal term that would lead to a government recall and probably a lengthy court fight with Chrysler. Instead, NHTSA’s administrator Ricardo Martinez called the latches a “safety problem.”

But it could be more than a year before the safety problem is fixed by Chrysler’s voluntary replacement of latches on the majority of the 4.5 million Chrysler minivans.

The automaker, which first saw the videotape a year ago, says it will take that long because it doesn’t have enough latches or mechanics to move more quickly.

Under a controversial deal worked out between Chrysler and NHTSA, Chrysler will send letters to minivan owners telling them when they can come in and have their latches replaced.

About 60,000 owners may already have received their notices. The majority - 3.7 million - won’t receive notices until December.

Consumer advocates claim NHTSA has acted too slowly and hasn’t been tough enough on Chrysler. In March, Chrysler agreed to replace the latches. Now, eight months later, NHTSA is closing its case and is left to simply monitor what Chrysler calls a “service action.” That term allows Chrysler to avoid the term “voluntary recall.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email