August 8, 2014 at 8:15 am

VW recalling 18,500 minivans for ignition problems

Washington — Volkswagen AG is recalling 18,500 2009 Routan minivans because the ignition key can move to the “off” or “accessory” position under rough road conditions, causing the vehicle to potentially stall and the airbags to fail in the event of the crash.

VW is the latest automaker to recall vehicles for ignition problems since General Motors Co. has recalled more than 17 million vehicles this year worldwide for ignition problems. Chrysler Group LLC — a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — built the Routan for VW — largely a rebadged Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Grand Caravan — and informed VW of the need for the recall.

VW will modify the ignition switch and begin the recall this month.

In late June, Chrysler said it would 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. Chrysler said it was expand a 2011 recall — that also covered some Routan vehicles — to cover the 2009 Dodge Journey and 2008-09 Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country "for inadvertent ignition key rotation from the run position to the accessory position."

VW has now recalled about 31,000 vehicles since 2011 for the issue.

Chrysler said it was fixing the vehicles by installing a more robust ignition module detent ring.

Chrysler said it had about 30 customer complaints and 465 warranty claims alleging inadvertent engine shut-off 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.

Chrysler disclosed that on June 17, NHTSA asked the automaker in a phone call to recall the 2008-09 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.

Chrysler has now recalled about 1.7 million vehicles for ignition switch problems since 2011. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration still is investigating whether Chrysler's fix is adequate in most of the recalled vehicles. In July, Chrysler also said was recalling nearly 800,000 older Jeep SUVs for ignition switch problems, and is urging owners to only use the ignition key as the automaker works to find a fix.

The company said the recall covers some 2006-07 Jeep Commander and 2005-07 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs, and said its engineers are seeking a remedy. "Chrysler is committing now to conduct a recall out of an abundance of caution," the company said.

Chrysler advised owners to make sure there is enough clearance between their knees and the keys so that the key doesn't get bumped and accidentally turn off the engine. As a further precaution, owners are advised to remove all items from their key rings, leaving only the ignition key.

The problem is similar to the issue that has rocked cross-town rival General Motors Co. after it failed to promptly recall 2.6 million cars linked to at least 13 deaths when air bags failed to deploy after vehicles stalled. GM has recalled about 15 million other vehicles for other ignition problems this year.

In an interview in July, acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman said the agency is looking more broadly at the issue of whether other automakers have ignition issues: "This whole GM Cobalt recall brought to light a whole set of new information about interactions between ignition switches and air bags. We quickly jumped on that new information ... We're still in that process."

The Commander and Grand Cherokee have a different ignition switch — an instrument panel mounted switch — compared to column ignition switches in the minivans.

Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will modify the ignition switch, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin this month. Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1- 800-822-8987. Volkswagens number for this recall is 28G1/U8. Note: This campaign is an expansion of NHTSA Recall No. 11V-151.