2009 Dodge Nitro SEEnlarge Photo
2009 Jeep Liberty LimitedEnlarge Photo
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), summarizes the problem by stating that the park brake lever clutch drum may distort and reduce the effectiveness of the park brake system, allowing the vehicle to move despite operator engagement of the parking brake lever.
This recall affects both small SUVs built before February 2008. Chrysler dealers will make the fix for free, and owners are encouraged to call Chrysler at 800-858-1403 for more information about the recall and to determine whether their Nitro or Liberty is affected.
If you are a driver so affected, please take quick action. Automatic transmissions use a parking pawl when the transmission is placed in "park," eliminating the possibility of a runaway vehicle. The parking brake on automatics is a redundancy, welcome on steep hills or with big loads. Manuals, however, rely on the parking brake to lock a parked vehicle in place. Engine compression ("leaving it in gear") is effective on flat surfaces or mild inclines, and in such cases picking the lowest gear ratio, usually reverse or first, is the safest bet. But we always advise using the parking brake as well, as even an anxious pet in the vehicle could potentially knock the shift lever into neutral allowing it to roll.--Colin Mathews