As part of a settlement with NHTSA over mishandled recalls, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has agreed to not only pay a record fine but also to buy back a select group of recent truck models with suspension problems while offering discounts to owners who might want to trade in older Jeeps facing recall.
The complex consent order has created plenty of confusion, dealers and factory phone lines – not to mention news outlets – inundated with calls and e-mails from owners wondering if they qualify for one of the deals.
Here’s some help in figuring out if you qualify for one of these programs, and what to do even if you don’t.
The consent order announced over the weekend was worked out in the wake of an unprecedented hearing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held on July 2nd to look at how FCA handled 23 separate recalls. It found the maker frequently delayed responding to safety problems, contrary to federal law. And even when it did order a recall, the feds questioned why repair rates often were so low and slow.
As part of the settlement, Fiat Chrysler promises to improve its safety practices – and an independent observer will be brought in to make sure that happens. The carmaker will pay a record $105 million in fines and penalties. But the most confusing elements involve trade-in incentives and a broad buyback program, both meant to get defective vehicles off the road.
(For more on the costly settlement, Click Here.)
Perhaps the first step for an owner of a Fiat Chrysler vehicle – including brands Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep and Ram – is to find the VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number. It’s on the registration slip, and also can be found on a metal tag at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side.
What the recent hearing underscored is that many owners have missed or ignored recalls that might affect the safety of their vehicles. It’s a good time to see if you need to schedule a service appointment, even if you’re not directly covered by the consent order. You can check by going to either the Chrysler website or NHTSA’s recall search tool, at www.safercar.gov.
As to who qualifies for the buyback, the list covers three separate recalls, and covers a group of pickup trucks and a couple SUVs with suspension problems that could lead to a sudden and unexpected loss of steering control. Some initial news reports were misleading, suggesting as many as 500,000 or more vehicles would be included. The actual number is likely to be less than 200,000 according to documents FCA has filed with the NHTSA.
A key point: if you’ve already had repair work done under the initial recall, you don’t qualify. Those who do still can choose to have repairs made instead of trading a vehicle in. In fact, FCA plans to repair vehicles it buys back and then re-sell them.
(Can FCA fix its broken safety system? Click Here to find out how it will try.)
You may qualify, then, if you own one of these models:
- 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 1500;
- 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 2500;
- 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 3500;
- 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 4500;
- 2008-2012 Dodge Ram 550;
- 2009 Chrysler Aspen;
- 2009 Dodge Durango;
- 2009-2011 Dodge Dakota.
Meanwhile, owners of Jeep Grand Cherokees sold between model-years 1999 to 2004 will be offered a gift card of $100 if they bring their vehicles in for inspection to see if they need to be repaired under recalls included in the consent order. Separately, owners of Jeep Grand Cherokees sold between the 1993 and 1998 model-years may qualify for a $1,000 “trade-in incentive” above the fair-market value of the vehicle. As with the buyback program, only those who have not yet had repairs made qualify.
While the Jeep trade-in incentive is meant to be used to buy a new FCA vehicle, there are no restrictions on any money an owner might receive through the buyback program. They could buy a new truck or FCA vehicle, go to a different manufacturer, or simply pocket the cash.
As to how much money an owner might receive under the buyback program, the consent order stated that, FCA must “refund the purchase price paid by the first purchaser of the vehicle for purposes other than resale, less a reasonable allowance for depreciation, and not including the cost of modifications made to the vehicle after the first retail sale.” To sweeten the deal, a 10% premium will be factored into the initial purchase price.
Specific details are being worked out and, under the consent order, FCA has about two months to work things out and then contact owners who qualify. But it has already set up a phone line for those who don’t want to wait: 1-800-853-1403.
(Hidden killers? NHTSA questions whether aging airbags could fail catastrophically. Click Here for the exclusive report.)