NHTSA Probes Lack Of Parts & Communication In Year-Old Dodge Recall

Nearly a year after Chrysler announced two recalls of Dodge Ram trucks, consumers are still waiting to have their vehicles fixed. The lack of parts and slow pace in remedying the steering issues has investigators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration looking for answers.

Reuters reports that NHTSA investigators opened an inquiry into poor communication by Chrysler and the delay of available replacement parts for nearly a million vehicles after receiving 1,012 consumer complaints about the recall process.

“We have concerns with the administration and execution of these safety recalls and accordingly have opened an investigation to collect further information from Chrysler about the details of administration and execution of these campaigns and the logic that supports the strategies used,” officials with NHTSA wrote in a letter [PDF] to Chrysler.

According to a notice [PDF] from NHTSA, the inquiry stems from two November 2013 recalls of Dodge Ram trucks that contain a defect in the left tie rod assembly that if fractured could cause the vehicle to lose steering control.

At the time of the initial recall of the 972,000 model year 2003-2012 light and heavy-duty Ram trucks, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) says it expressed concern over the manufacturers proposed remedy.

“ODI reviewed the remedy instructions to dealers provided in Chrysler’s technical service bulletin (TSB) and discussed with Chrysler issues related to the pragmatic application of the remedy, including concerns about the difficulty of the repair procedure and application of by independent repair shops that may have limited access to information or tooling needed to perform the recall repairs correctly,” the NHTSA notice states.

Chrysler first notified owners of the affected vehicles in December 2013 and said that repairs could be scheduled in January.

However, NHTSA reports that it received hundreds of complaints from owners reporting frustrations with obtaining service appointments and having their vehicles remedied under the recall.

“Many owners have complained of dealers informing them it would be many months before the dealership could secure a replacement part for their vehicle,” investigators write in the NHTSA report. “During the initial months of the recalls’ launch, ODI contacted Chrysler to confirm there were not any recall administrative issues or unusual remedy parts restrictions, and was informed there were not, and that dealers could order and receive parts through Chrysler’s parts division, Mopar.”

Soon after NHSTA began receiving consumers complaints, ODI received information from dealers that restrictions were in place and that they had been instructed to return the replacement tie rods to Mopar for quality verification.

Chrysler then informed NHTSA that the recall had been suspended while an investigation into quality concerns for the parts was conducted.

For its part, Chrysler tells Reuters that it has kept NHTSA informed of all progress related to the recalls and will cooperate with the agency’s audit.

“Customers have been advised in accordance with the regulations governing recalls,” a spokesman for Chrysler says. “We are continually replenishing our supply of replacement parts. Chrysler Group regrets any inconvenience our customers may have experienced.”

This is the second time this year that NHTSA investigators have questioned Chrysler’s slow-moving pace when it comes to recall fixes.

Back in July, the agency issued a hard deadline for Chrysler to answer for delays in fixing 1.56 million Jeep SUVs recalled during the summer of 2013. The vehicles were recalled because the rear-mounted fuel tank on the SUVs sat too low and were at risk for rear-end explosions.

According to NHTSA, the manufacturer was supposed to install trailer hitches to protect the fuel tank, but as of April 2014 didn’t have parts available.

U.S. safety regulators probe Chrysler Ram pickup recalls [Reuters]