Fuel Spit-back Continues to Plague Chrysler Vehicles, Owners on the Hook
Reprinted from The Safety Record, Volume 8, Issue 1, March 2011
Fuel “spit back” through the filler neck has been a longstanding problem in several Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models, caused by the Inlet Check Valve (ICV) mounted in the fuel tank. Despite some limited recalls and at least one extended lifetime warranty, this defect, which first surfaced in 2001, continues to plague a number of models. Tens of thousands of vehicles are outside of any campaign, forcing owners to pay for a repair that requires replacement of the entire tank assembly.
Numerous Dodge Durango owners have complained to NHTSA and Chrysler. Others have commiserated about “spit back” on Internet blogs and enthusiast websites, and posted dramatic video footage showing geysers of gasoline or significant fuel dumps into the concrete around the pump.
And yet, NHTSA has walked away from the problem. Citing the absence of a safety defect trend, the Office of Defects Investigations last month closed a Preliminary Evaluation into fuel spills and spit backs from the filler neck in 2007 and 2008 Model Year Jeep Wranglers. ODI had logged 895 failure reports, including 473 complaints directly to the agency, but dismissed those complaints as influenced by internet related publicity before and during the investigation. (See The Hype Hypothesis, p. 1).
More relevant to the agency’s reasoning was a Chrysler technical service bulletin issued five days before the inquiry officially closed, initiating a lifetime warranty program for 135,000 2007-2008 Jeep Wranglers built between March 2007 and April 2008. Owners of other problematic vehicles, however – namely the 2005-2006 Jeep Wrangler and the 2005-2008 Dodge Durango/ Chrysler Aspen were on their own.
NHTSA initiated investigation PE10-032 on August 23, 2010 based on 217 consumer complaints involving 2007-2008 Jeep Wranglers related to fuel spilling out during the refueling process. NHTSA’s letter to Chrysler, notifying them of the investigation, indicated that it had received similar VOQs (Vehicle Owner Questionnaire) on earlier generation 2005 and 2006 Wranglers, as well as 2005 though 2008 Dodge Durangos.
Bad Check Valve? Check.
These Jeeps suffer from a defective Inlet Check Valve, incorporated into the fuel tank at the top where the fuel enters from the fuel filler tube neck during the refueling process. The ICV is designed to close when the fuel level in the tank reaches a near full level to prevent the air pressure created in the top of the fuel tank during refueling from pushing the fuel that is still in the filler neck back out of the filler tube. If the check valve fails, fuel can spill or “spit back” onto the ground or the person refueling the vehicle.
In its response to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, Chrysler claimed that it couldn’t find the root cause of the ICV sticking, and blamed it on the ethanol content of the most common form of fuel available to consumers today. The automaker said that gas with ethanol levels higher than 10 percent can cause the components within the valve to swell which would prevent it from properly closing. Chrysler also claimed it performed a dimensional analysis of the ICVs and could find no design problem.
And yet, Chrysler has battled this same fuel spit-back problem three times before. In December 2001, Chrysler initiated a recall covering some 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokees, to remedy fuel inlet check valves that may partially stick in the open position, allowing the fuel to spill out of the fuel tube due to pressure differences between the tank and the atmosphere. Chrysler had determined that certain valve components, combined with fuel swell, could create an interference fit, allowing the valve to remain partially open.
Similarly, in February 2005, Chrysler recalled 2005 Dodge Durangos manufactured from March 2004 to November 2004 for the fuel tank filler tube inlet check valve. Again, the recall noted that the valve may not fully close at the end of refueling which could allow some fuel to escape from the vehicle filler neck. According to Chrysler, this was a manufacturing problem. The automaker alleged that the supplier, Inergy Automotive Systems, had not centered the valve when it was welded to the fuel tank, causing the valve to be distorted by exposure to excessive heat.
Four years later, Chrysler expanded the 2005 recall to include more vehicles, because the corrections in the manufacturing process initiated after the original recall were only partially effective in preventing a failure of the fuel inlet check valve.
Chrysler also had issues with the fuel tanks being difficult to fill and the fuel nozzle shutting off repeatedly during refueling. On September 1, 2009, Chrysler published “TSB 14-001-09 Rev. A” which covers a wide range of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles.
To date, Chrysler has gotten away with limited recalls that fail to address the problem. That leaves thousands of vehicle owners to pay for the replacement of the entire fuel tank assembly, if they want to fill up without endangering their health or the environment from a plume of gasoline spewing from the tank.