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Car Manufacturers Know How to Prevent Fuel Fed Fires

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Despite years of preparation and careful design, motor vehicle accidents often result in fuel fed fires caused by defective fuel systems that fail to contain the fuel during a collision.

Automobile manufacturers should design fuel systems to maintain their integrity during reasonably foreseeable accidents so that occupants do not lose their lives in otherwise survivable-accidents. Yet, vehicles are constantly being recalled for reasons the industry already knew about. One of the most common known risks of fuel fed fires is tank location. Just recently the United States government asked Chrysler to recall nearly 3 million Jeeps due to known fire risks. The risk was a result of fuel tank positioning behind the rear axle; a terrible and negligent design concept with no justification.

Vehicle manufacturers are again under scrutiny as a result of long term knowledge regarding tank positioning behind the rear axle as a cause of concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has correlated 51 deaths as a result of fires caused by gas leaking from punctured gas tanks in rear end crashes. Prior to the 1970’s fuel tanks in most cars were positioned behind the rear axle. Then in 1978 Ford recalled 1.5 million vehicles for rear axle fuel tank positioning, and Chrysler in drafted an internal memo regarding the concerns of tank positioning and future placement of fuel tanks in their vehicles. Finally, a 1993 study of fire related deaths from ’77 to ’89 concluded that relocating tanks had a substantial effect on the reduction of fire deaths. Bearing all this in mind, Chrysler still willingly placed a car into commerce with faulty fuel tank placement behind the rear axle. This calls into question the integrity and reliability of the manufacturers.

It is not always location that causes fuel fed fires. Design defects related to fuel fed fires can involve several different vehicle systems. Other design issues include: fuel filler cap design, fuel line design, fuel tank design, and fuel pump design. There are certain design criteria known to manufacturers for years that in essence would make for optimal fuel tank safety. The criteria include:

  1. Tanks should be located away from the crash zones and not placed behind the rear axle
  2. Tanks should be situated over the car’s rear axle and within the vehicle’s protective frame
  3. The tanks should be kept away from protruding objects that could puncture them
  4. Tanks should have shields on them to protect them from such objects
  5. Tank filler necks should be configured and constructed so they won’t rupture or break away from the tank in a crash; and
  6. Safety “check valves” should be installed that prevent gasoline from siphoning out of the fuel tanks after a crash.

Despite this knowledge Manufacturers don’t always follow the guidelines and many do not provide the proper structural protection for the tanks. These manufacturer failures often lead to fuel fed fires that seemingly can be avoided. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a fuel fed fire, please contact our firm. We have vast experience dealing with automobile product liability cases.

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