WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is putting Fiat-Chrysler under the microscope for its handling of 20 separate recalls of more than 10 million vehicles since 2013, including Jeep fire recalls.
NHTSA announced Monday that it will hold a July 2 public hearing on the automaker's conduct in those recalls.
If federal safety regulators determine that the company has "failed its legal obligations under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the agency could order actions designed to improve the company's performance, including the buy-back or replacement of affected vehicles," NHTSA said in a statement.
Fiat-Chrysler may also be subject to civil penalties of up to $7,000 per day, up to a maximum penalty of $35 million per recall for a related series of daily violations.
The 20 recalls include one recall of 1.56 million Jeeps, including the 1993-'98 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 2002-'07 Jeep Liberty, for defective gas tanks that can catch fire if the vehicle is struck from behind.
"Our concerns are broader than one recall," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind during a media conference call. "NHTSA has concerns about slow completion rates, faulty remedies and more. Each defect presents an unreasonable risk to safety. We need to determine if there's a pattern here."
Rosekind told reporters during the call that NHTSA was not reopening an investigation into Jeep fires.
He also urged owners of the vehicles in question to schedule appointments at Jeep dealerships to have their vehicles fixed. The fix involves the installation of a trailer-hitch assembly to protect the fuel tanks from rupturing in a rear-end impact.
"People need to get that trailer-hitch assembly on their vehicles," Rosekind said. "That will make their car safer."
NHTSA said it has received consumer complaints about the various recalls involving parts availability issues, lack of notification and difficulty in obtaining service appointments.
Fiat-Chrysler Spokesman Eric Mayne told Edmunds, "The company will cooperate fully," adding, "The average completion rate for FCA US recalls exceeds the industry average and all FCA US campaigns are conducted in consultation with NHTSA."
Edmunds says: Perhaps the best advice from NHTSA's Mark Rosekind is that affected consumers should schedule service appointments with their dealers to get any recalled vehicles fixed.