Washington — Chrysler Group LLC said it is recalling nearly 350,000 older cars and SUVs because ignition switches could malfunction and cause stalling.
The recall covers 349,442 2008, Dodge Chargers, Dodge Magnums, Chrysler 300 sedans, Jeep Commanders and Jeep Grand Cherokees; 292,000 are in the United States, 19,000 in Canada, 5,000 in Mexico and 33,000 elsewhere.
Chrysler — a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — has now recalled more than 2 million vehicles since 2011 for ignition switch problems. The issue got new attention after General Motors Co. in February recalled 2.6 million cars for ignition switches that could move out of the "on" position to the accessory or off position, causing them to stall and disabling air bags. GM has recalled more than 16 million vehicles this year for ignition issues.
Chrysler said its investigation found that in some 2008 models produced before May 2008, vehicles "may not fully return to the 'on' position after rotation to the 'start' position during engine-startup. Instead, they may remain between the 'start' and 'on' positions. If this occurs, windshield defroster and wiper function may be lost. Air bag function is not affected."
Chrysler said its investigation also showed a "less probable" problem could cause air bags to fail. "An ignition key may not fully return to the 'on' position after rotation to the 'start' position and may inadvertently move through the 'on' position to 'accessory" or "off.' If this occurs, it may result in reduced braking power and a loss of engine power, power steering, and one or more of the vehicle's safety features including front air bags," Chrysler said.
Chrysler said it is aware of a single minor accident that was possibly related to either condition — and no injuries. The automaker wants owners to only use their ignition key and not use a key chain. Chrysler doesn't yet have a fix for the problem — or for an earlier recall announced in July for ignition issues.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has notified major automakers it wants to make sure they are looking at ignition switch issues and wants automakers to brief them on system interactions — like the connection between airbags not deploying and ignition key position. NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said earlier this month the agency has been looking closely at the issue.
Chrysler and NHTSA discussed the issue in recent weeks and Chrysler notified the safety agency of the recall last week.
Friedman told The Detroit News that the Chrysler ignition recall "is exactly a result of our new understanding of this relationship between ignition switches and the air bag. Once we had that information we were able to comb the data and present a case ... and they followed up with a recall."
Chrysler is still investigating the problem and doesn't have a fix yet. Until then, owners are advised to make sure the ignition keys are in the "on" position.
In June, NHTSA announced it was opening investigations into 1.2 million Chrysler vehicles because of reports that a driver's knee can move the ignition switch out of the "run" position, causing the vehicles to stall and disabling the air bags. That included 525,000 2006-07 Jeep Commanders and 2005-06 Jeep Grand Cherokees in the United States. NHTSA has said it still is investigating whether Chrysler's fix is adequate in many of the recalled vehicles.
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 expanding a 2011 recall 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."
In July, Chrysler said it was recalling nearly 800,000 older Jeep SUVs for ignition switch problems, and urged 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. Chrysler said Thursday said it doesn't yet have a fix
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 in the minivan and SUV recall — even though NHTSA has concerns it may not work.
Last month, Chrysler said it is establishing a new office of Vehicle Safety and Regulatory Compliance. It will be led by Senior Vice President Scott Kunselman.
Previously, Chrysler housed auto safety in its global engineering group. It is now served by a stand-alone organization. Chrysler's top safety engineer previously reported to Mark Chernoby, who was senior vice president of engineering. Chrysler said last month the move "will help intensify the company's continuing commitment to vehicle safety and regulatory compliance."