June 30, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Chrysler recalling 700,000 minivans, SUVs for ignition problem

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)

Washington —Chrysler Group LLC said will recall nearly 696,000 minivans and SUVs worldwide under government pressure because ignition keys could rotate out of the “on” position, potentially causing stalling and the air bag not to deploy in a front-end crash.

In a notice posted on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, the Auburn Hills unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said it will expand a 2011 recall to cover the 2009 Dodge Journey and 2008-2009 Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country “for inadvertent ignition key rotation from the run position to the accessory position.”

Chrysler said the recall covers 525,000 vehicles in the United States, a higher number than it listed in NHTSA documents.

Chrysler said it had 32 customer complaints and 465 warranty claims alleging inadvertent engine shutoff while driving — and reports of two rear-end collisions arising from the condition. There are no reports of deaths or injuries from air bags failing to deploy in crashes linked to the defect.

Two weeks ago, NHTSA said it was opening an investigation into 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles for an ignition switch problem similar to the one that has led to General Motors recall of millions of vehicles. The investigation includes 700,000 2008-10 Grand Caravan, Town and Country and Journey minivans. Drivers say that on rough roads or when bumped, the key can rotate from “run” to “accessory” mode, causing the engine to shut down.

Chrysler disclosed that on June 17, NHTSA asked the automaker in a phone call to recall the 2008-2009 vehicles. But the automaker is standing by its recall remedy — adding a detent ring to the switch to make it stiffer, instead of replacing the entire part — even though NHTSA has concerns it may not work.

In March 2011, Chrysler recalled 197,000 2010 Dodge Journeys, Grand Caravans and Chrysler Town & Countrys for inadvertent ignition key rotation. The automaker estimated the problem affected 3 percent of vehicles. Chrysler opted to add a detent ring. NHTSA is now looking at whether the remedy works. Chrysler is planning to conduct the same remedy for the nearly 700,000 additional vehicles getting recalled.

NHTSA said in a statement Monday that Chrysler’s expanded recall “addresses the agency’s concerns on vehicle scope, it does not address agency safety concerns regarding the effectiveness of the remedy, specifically the possibility that the defect may result in non-deployment of the vehicles’ air bags.” The agency is requesting additional information.

A Chrysler spokesman had no comment on why the automaker believes its remedy is sufficient.

NHTSA also said on June 18 it was investigating 525,000 2006-07 Jeep Commanders and 2005-06 Jeep Grand Cherokees after 32 complaints allege the driver’s knee can contact the key fob or key chain and cause the ignition to be turned off.

The agency said Monday it is sending Chrysler a separate information request letter as part of the agency’s ongoing investigation into the 2006-2007 Jeep Commander and 2005-2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles “for a possible defect in those vehicles related to inadvertent ignition key rotation that could lead to an air bag failing to deploy in a crash under certain circumstances.”

NHTSA’s new letter to Chrysler seeks detailed answers on how the ignition switch moving out of position can cause the air bag to fail. NHTSA gave the automaker until July 30 to answer all of its questions.

The new investigations were prompted by NHTSA’s broad look at air bags, and talks with automakers and suppliers about air bag design and performance — including whether air bags in other vehicles are disabled if the ignition switch is turned off.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com