Do late-model Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs, and Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, have a shift lever that’s so tricky so as to allow inadvertent vehicle roll-away?
The federal government is investigating—although based on information provided so far in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) documents, it may end up being an issue with operator error more than any flawed components or vehicle systems.
The investigation is an expansion of one started in August, when the agency looked at a series of complaints from owners of the 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, some of which involved roll-away and resulting crashes and injuries.
2013 Dodge Charger
In these models, all with the so-called Monostable shifter, you tilt the lever forward or backward to change between the transmissions gears
The control lever isn’t actually produced by the automaker—rather, it’s hardware from ZF, the supplier of the transmission. And it’s used, with slight variation, by other automakers—including Audi.
The investigation, which has now been expanded to an estimated 856,284 vehicles, including 2015-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee models, as well as 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 models with the 3.6-liter engine, cites no fatality incidents so far, but calculates a total of 30 injuries, 121 crashes, and 314 complaints in all.
2014 Dodge Charger
Investigators found that the shift-lever system “is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”
As it is, the system includes a warning chime and message on the instrument cluster if the driver’s door is opened while the vehicle is still in gear. It doesn’t allow normal engine shutoff if the vehicle isn’t shifted to Park.
An engineering analysis has been opened, and the automaker has reported to The New York Times that it’s cooperating with the investigation. The workaround may end up being what many cars already have—a safety system that doesn’t allow the vehicle to move, even at low speed, when the driver’s door is open.