Chrysler caves, agrees to recall Jeeps

Logo for the Jeep division of Chrysler at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, January 15, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images) STAN HONDA

(MoneyWatch) Update, 4:36 p.m.: Chrysler reversed field today and said it would comply with federal safety officials' request to recall older Jeep SUVs to check for possible fire hazards.,

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that gas tank placement on the Jeep Grand Cherokees and Jeep Liberty model SUVs is at fault in 51 fatalities.Chrysler had previously argued tha most of these were high-speed crashes where the gas tank design did not affect the outcome. The company adds that the Jeeps, built between 1993 and  2007, met the safety standards at the time.

But in a statement today the company said that "Chrysler Group recognizes that this matter has raised concerns for its customers and wants to take further steps, in coordination with NHTSA, to provide additional measures to supplement the safety of its vehicles."

Analysts believe Chrysler made a good decision in avoiding the damage to its brand image that a protracted dispute could have caused. "Chrysler's stance in resolving the issue with NHTSA shows the company takes safety and its customers seriously," said Jack Nerad, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book. 

The Chrysler action comes in a busy time for recalls.There were 586 last year, according to  NHTSA, and there has been a surge recently. General Motors just announced that it is recalling 194,000 SUVs because of fire danger. Nearly every week, there is another recall to avoid a potential fire, seat belt malfunction or for other safety issue. Why are there so many recalls? And should you worry about the safety of your car? 

Like General Motors, auto makers generally have been quick to issue recalls, often without being asked. This attitude has strengthened since 2010, when Toyota's series of recalls for sudden acceleration finally ended up with NHTSA fining the company $32.4 million for being slow to report the defects.

When it comes to your own car, don't worry about safety unless you get a recall notice. "Cars today are the safest ever made," said analyst Michelle Krebs of auto web site Edmunds.com. She cited the highway fatality rate that is much lower than in decades past.

If you should get a recall notice for your own car, take it to a dealer and have the repair done for free. "If it reaches a recall, that means there is a safety issue, so get the fixed if your car is on the list," said auto safety advocate Sean Kane.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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