Fiat Chrysler is recalling 1.1 million vehicles worldwide, including more than 800,000 midsize SUVs and full-size cars in the United States, because of confusion about when the vehicles’ automatic transmission is in the “park” position. The problem has resulted in 41 injuries.
Drivers have been getting out of the vehicles without shifting into park while the engine is still running, USA Today reports. In vehicles with electronic shift levers, the lever can spring back to the previous position after being shifted. The driver can’t tell by looking at the shifter’s position whether it is in park. Fiat Chrysler says drivers have to depend on indicator lights. The shift design makes it difficult for the driver to distinguish between different gear selections.
A Jeep Grand Cherokee owner in Walton, Indiana said he left his 2015 Jeep running when he got out to drop off a DVD. He thought he had moved the shifter into the correct position. The owner said, “My 23-year-old son was in the passenger seat and yelled out, ‘Dad, the car is moving.” He jumped back into the vehicle, put his foot on the brake, and moved the shift lever so it indicated the park position. The confusion doesn’t appear to be limited to shifting into park. A driver in Rochester Hills, Michigan, reported being unsure about whether the vehicle was in reverse. “Intending to back into my driveway, I shifted into reverse,” the complaint read. “The vehicle was not in reverse and crashed into the vehicle that was parked . . . across the street.”
In the U.S., the recall involves Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans from model years 2012 to 2014 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs from 2014 and 2015. The recall will include about 52,144 vehicles in Canada, 16,805 in Mexico, and 248,667 in countries outside North America.
The recall arises from an investigation the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted along with Fiat Chrysler. NHTSA had recorded at least 314 complaints of rollaways, 121 crashes, and 30 injuries, according to Car & Driver magazine.
Safety expert Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies, a firm that specializes in car-safety issues, says the problem involves a failure by engineers to fully anticipate all the scenarios where the driver uses the shifter, USA Today reports. In models, the automatic transmission was mechanical, and it was easier for the driver to be sure the car was in the correct gear. Now that transmissions are electronic, it has become easier to be confused about shifting. Kane notes the “high number of injuries,” and he faults Fiat Chrysler’s “complete lack of human-factors engineering and a lack of built-in fail-safes.”
The automaker says that even though chimes and alert messages sound when the driver’s side door opens while the engine is running, those warnings may be insufficient. Fiat Chrysler says it will update the transmission software and enhance the warnings and modify the settings in the transmission to make it more difficult for the vehicle to move even if the driver has not selected the will not move under certain conditions if the driver has failed to switch to park.