U.S. probes 408,000 Jeep SUVs for rollaway incidents

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said late Monday it is opening a preliminary investigation into 408,000 new Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs for complaints that the vehicles rolled away after being shifted into park.

NHTSA said it has received 14 complaints, including five reports of crashes and three injuries. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV spokesman Eric Mayne said the automaker is cooperating. The investigation covers the 2014 and 2015 models that are equipped with an electronic gear selector or shift by wire system. The gear selection is made by pressing the shifter paddle forward or backward; the shifter does not move along a gate path as with conventional gear selectors.

Jeep Grand Cherokee sales were up 5 percent in July to 15,867 in the United States and are up 4 percent for the year to 108,947.

In June, an owner in Livonia said he put his 2015 Jeep SUV into park to go into a gas station.

“The vehicle then started to roll backwards while still in park and then collided into another parked vehicle. While the vehicle was rolling backwards, three other occupants proceeded to evacuate the vehicle before it collided with the other parked car,” the complaint said. “The evacuation of the vehicle left the doors open which, when the vehicles collided, left the doors of the rolling vehicle (the jeep) unable to be closed.”

The people who got out included two children and an adult. A child was injured exiting the vehicle as the vehicle collided with another parked vehicle and then continued on, rolling into a ditch. A bystander jumped into the vehicle to try to stop it and noticed the shift indicator was showing the vehicle was in park, the complaint said.

In another complaint filed in February, an owner in Morganton, North Carolina, said he was seriously injured when his 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee started moving after he parked it and the driver door struck him, knocking him to the ground “on my back.”

“The left front tire rolled over my pelvic area causing serious injury,” the complaint said. The SUV crashed into a fence and jack-knifed the trailer. He said Fiat Chrysler inspected the SUV but found no problems.

In one complaint filed last month, a driver in Austin, Texas, said a Jeep Grand Cherokee crashed into a metal pole after the SUV had been shifted into park. Another driver in Grand Rapids said the process to put the vehicle in park was not safe.

“The electronic shift does not have intuitive ... or positive gear positions. It requires specific, counter-intuitive movements that must be learned, carefully executed and tediously watched,” the driver said, saying twice he thought he had put the vehicle in park and in once case, the vehicle started to roll away. “I have never experienced anything as potentially dangerous in a modern vehicle.”

In a complaint filed in April 2014, an owner said his Jeep rolled 50 feet down and into a tree, causing $3,000 in damage. Fiat Chrysler conducted an inspection and found no problems. Another complaint came from a Bloomfield Hills owner in December who reported that the Jeep almost drove over his foot exiting; a Rochester Hills owner in June 2014 said he nearly hit another car when the SUV rolled, one of five separate incidents.

NHTSA has investigated vehicles rolling away in recent years. In 2012, Honda Motor Co. recalled 870,000 SUVs and minivans because they could roll away after the safety agency opened a preliminary investigation. NHTSA also opened an investigation into120,000 2002-07 BMW 7 Series vehicles over concerns the vehicles may roll away after being parked. In 2012, BMW recalled 45,000 2005-08 7 Series vehicles with the “Comfort Access option.”

Last year, Ford Motor Co. recalled 92,000 vehicles in North America, including 2013-14 models of the Taurus, Flex, Ford Police Interceptor, Lincoln MKS and Lincoln MKT; 2012-14 Ford Edge; and 2014 Lincoln MKX.

Because of faulty assembly, Ford said the vehicles could roll away if the gearshift is placed in "park without the emergency brake being activated.” Ford said dealers will inspect the halfshaft and repair or replace as needed.