There have been thousands of recalls in the past couple years, that I cannot even keep up with them. I was surprised to hear that a young actor was recently crushed by a Jeep Cherokee after it rolled down is driveway and pinned him to a brick post. What was equally surprising was that this type of Jeep had already been identified by the automaker for a problem that could cause the vehicle to roll away.
Fiat Chrysler (FCAM) filed a recall notice in April with federal safety regulators for the 2015 Grand Cherokee, the model Yelchin owned, along with 1.1 million cars and SUVs in April. More than 100 crashes have been reported due to a gear selector problem that caused confusion about whether the car was in park.
Car owners haven’t gotten an official recall notice yet, but they did receive a notice warning about the problem in May. It advised drivers to double check that the car is in park, and that the parking brake is on before exiting. Fiat Chrysler has to wait for replacement parts to become available before it can start repairs, according to its filing with safety regulators. At that point it will send a recall notice telling owners to bring the car in for free repairs.
Fiat Chrysler said it it will conduct a thorough investigation of the accident that killed the actor but that it is too soon to say whether the gear problem was cause at the accident.
The cars identified in April have a gear selector that makes it hard to tell what gear the vehicle is in. The root of the problem is found in the design of the more sensitive electronic gear shifter. Unlike a traditional shifter, the electronic version is simply moved forward and backward to select gear. Once the gear has been selected, the shifter returns to the centered position. This means the e-shifter lacks the typical grooves and sensation of moving the car into park, drive or reverse that drivers are used to. While the vehicles include a chime and message that sounds when a driver opens his or her door when the gearshift isn’t in “park,” safety regulators determined this function does not protect drivers who “intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after an attempted shut-off.
Hundreds of owners filed complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it was confusing to use. Several had exited their vehicles without having engaged Park as intended, leading to rollaway events despite warning lights and sounds designed to prevent this from happening.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said there have been 117 crashes allegedly associated with the problem. Of those, 28 reportedly caused injuries, including a fractured pelvis a ruptured bladder and broken ribs. But current filings show no fatalities had been tied to the problem.
To remedy the problem, Chrysler plans to change how the gear works and to enhance the warnings a driver gets if they exit the car when it’s not in park. The changes are designed to automatically prevent the vehicle from moving under certain circumstances, even if the driver doesn’t select “park.”
The vehicles set to be recalled are model-year 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, as well as model-year 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. Later versions of these cars and SUVs have a different type of gear selector that apparently isn’t as confusing. Fiat Chrysler said it changed the design of the gear selector in part because of this problem.