Fiat-Chrysler Admits Gear Shifter Defect Still a Problem

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When people purchase a new car, truck, or another vehicle they expect for the vehicle to be safe and free from auto defects. If the vehicle does happen to have problems or other issues that affect one’s ability to drive and operate it safely, consumers expect auto manufacturers and car dealerships to issue a recall quickly. Once the recall has been issued, consumers also expect a quick turnaround on the repair of their vehicle. When manufacturers allow defects to go unrepaired for weeks or months, drivers are often forced to make tough choices such as mothballing their vehicle until parts or a repair appointment window becomes available.  

In some cases, auto defects exist due to conscious design decisions made by engineers and others involved with the vehicle’s conception and planning. While once thought to be an issue of the 1950s and 1060s, the problem of confusing gear shifters is again a safety concern. In fact, a recent defect caused by a confusing gear shifter design is responsible for at least 266 crashes that have injured 68 people. In the most high-profile instance of this defect, Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin was killed when his Jeep unexpectedly rolled out of park and pinned him against a fence. We previously blogged about how novel gear shifter designs can contribute to or cause operator error that can produce catastrophic life-altering injuries.

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Previously Announced Gear Shifter Defect was not Repaired by Software Fix

In April  2016, FCA announced that the 2012–2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans and 2014–2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee models were equipped with a gear shifter that was confusing to customers and could result in a vehicle rollaway. This defect was expanded in June to include additional vehicles. This recall was announced due to the fact that, according to NHTSA, the shifter’s design “appears to violate several basic design guidelines for vehicle controls.” The design of the shifter made it difficult for drivers to tell what gear they were in and did not register driver attempts to shift gears. In particular, the vehicle could roll away when the driver thought that he or she had placed it in park.

In November 2016, FCA announced that the software and other fixes originally announced for this defect were not effective in nearly 30,000 affected vehicles. Drivers of these vehicles are currently being notified by FCA of the problem and will need to take their vehicle in for a second software upgrade to address the issue. The new recall was motivated by an internal audit that found that roughly 3.5% of vehicles did not respond favorably to the original software update and required additional repairs.

Vehicle Safety Watch List Anticipated the Announcement of this Safety Recall by FCA

It is essential to note that the presence of this defect was long predicted by The Safety institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List. The Safety Institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List Analytics and NHTSA Enforcement Monitoring Program are focused on aggregating NHTSA and consumer complaint data. The aggregation and analysis of this data can often anticipate emerging safety problems before manufacturers issue a recall or make fixes available.

In the case of this gear shift defect, the 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokee vehicles have topped the list for trending vehicle defects. Utilizing data from NHTSA’s Early Warning Reporting (EWR) and NHTSA consumer complaints, The Safety Institute identified problems with the vehicle seemingly shifting gears on its own and a failure for the recall remedy to stop this behavior. One report of the defect in a 2015 Jeep Cherokee noted:

After pulling the vehicle into a parking space, the vehicle inadvertently shifted into drive and crashed into a tree. The airbags did not deploy. A police report was not filed and there were no injuries. The vehicle was towed to a dealer but was not diagnosed or repaired. The vehicle was serviced per NHTSA campaign number: 16v240000 (power train), but the failure recurred.

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Another incident report notes that the problem only started to occur after the vehicle was updated with the first software update:

The contact stated that while driving from a complete stop, the transmission independently shifted into the park position. The vehicle was NHTSA consumer complaints as of October 18, 2016, restarted and it functioned as normal. The failure occurred only after the vehicle was serviced under NHTSA campaign number: 16v240000 (power train). The contact mentioned that the recall remedy was insufficient and scheduled an appointment with the dealer for the vehicle to be diagnosed and repaired.

Contact a Philadelphia Auto Defect Lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm

While it is highly likely that the timing was merely coincidental, there remains a chance that the first software fix may have created problems in certain vehicles. In any case, the first update was clearly insufficient to remedy the problem in all cases. Therefore, all drivers of Jeep and other impacted FCA vehicles should use NHTSA’s SaferCar look-up tool to determine if their vehicle is impacted. If you were injured in a Philadelphia car accident due to a defective vehicle, contact the Pennsylvania or New Jersey auto defect attorney of The Reiff Law Firm.

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