The German-American automaker agreed to the voluntary recall on Sept. 8, 2000, after 19 fires had been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The recall has not taken place, and in the interim, six more engine fires have been reported and another 56 consumers have complained of fuel leaks in 1996-2000 model Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth minivans, according to government documents obtained by The Detroit News.
Several minivan owners have been told by DaimlerChrysler dealers that no recall exists. Others were told incorrectly that their vehicles are not included in the planned safety action, the News reported Sunday.
The owner of a 1996 Chrysler Town & Country told NHTSA on Oct. 9 that he had to pay $542 to replace equipment covered by the recall.
DaimlerChrysler says it will start the recall in late January.
A company spokesman blamed the extensive delay on limited production capacity of replacement parts, and a time-consuming effort to come up with an alternative solution.
"The timeline has extended much longer than we wanted," DaimlerChrysler spokesman Mike Rosenau told the newspaper. "There absolutely is a sense of urgency to get this done."
About 500 automotive recalls are initiated each year.
"This is an exception, an anomaly and not what we like to see," said NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd. "But DaimlerChrysler is the one responsible to come up with the solution."
DaimlerChrysler told NHTSA that the rate of fuel leak complaints is four in 100,000 vehicles. When fuel leaks in a minivan's engine compartment, the results often are catastrophic.
Of the 25 engine fires reported to NHTSA, at least 10 of the minivans were engulfed in flames and every vehicle sustained extensive damage. Seven injuries are cited in NHTSA documents.
"I count my blessings every day," said Peter Kidd, whose Dodge Caravan caught fire as he drove down a busy New York street on Oct. 27, 1999. "I could hardly open the door because the flames were so high. I jumped out of the van to save my life."
Three people have died in fires in minivans that were part of the recall population. On Jan. 25, 1999, 76-year-old Elinor Ovens died in a fire in a brand-new, $33,000 Town & Country minivan in rural Georgia.
Seven months later, Richard and Anne Caddock were killed when their Town & Country erupted in flames after a traffic collision in Roseburg, Ore.
Neither NHTSA nor DaimlerChrysler attribute those fires specifically to fuel-rail leaks. But relatives of the victims are convinced that fuel-system defects contributed to the sudden fires.
Relatives of Ovens have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
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