DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler says it has resolved its differences with the government and will recall older Jeep Grand Cherokee and Liberty SUVs that could be at risk of a fuel tank fire.
Earlier this month the company refused the government's request to recall the Jeeps. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contended that the gas tanks could rupture if hit from the rear, causing fires. NHTSA said 51 people had died in fiery crashes.
But Chrysler says in a statement Tuesday that dealers will inspect the vehicles and upgrade the rear structure if needed to better handle low-speed crashes.
The company maintains that the vehicles aren't defective.
The government had asked Chrysler to recall 2.7 million Jeep Grand Cherokees from model years 1993 through 2004 and Jeep Libertys from 2002 through 2007.
Car companies rarely spar publicly with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that monitors auto safety. Both sides in the Jeep case say they prefer negotiations, but neither is backing down. Once Chrysler formally rejects the recall, the next step would be for NHTSA to find that the Jeeps are defective and schedule a hearing. Ultimately, though, NHTSA would need a federal court order to impose the recall.
The last time an automaker defied a NHTSA recall request was early in 2011, when Ford said that calling back 1.2 million pickup trucks for defective air bags wasn't justified. Ford later agreed to the recall after NHTSA threatened to hold a rare public hearing on the issue.
NHTSA began investigating the SUVs three years ago at the behest of Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group.
Earlier this month, the agency sent a letter to Chrysler asking it to voluntarily recall Grand Cherokees from 1993 through 2004 and Libertys from 2002 through 2007. The plastic gas tanks, the government said, can rupture when hit from behind, spilling fuel and causing deadly fires.