Feds probe Ram, Dodge gearshifts for rollaway risk

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating about 1 million more Fiat Chrysler trucks and SUVs after drivers reported the vehicles can roll away after their gearshifts are placed in park.

The agency said in documents posted on its website on Tuesday that it has received 43 complaints about 2013-16 Ram 1500s and 2014-16 Dodge Durangos that allege the vehicles roll away after being shifted into a “parked position.”

The reported faulty gearshifts have been linked to nine injuries and 25 crashes, according to federal regulators. The complaints have prompted a probe of 1 million vehicles, in addition to the 1.1 million cars that were included in a global recall Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV announced in April after federal regulators found that new electric transmission shifters in some Jeeps, Chryslers and Dodges were confusing drivers and causing accidents.

NHTSA said in its documents that none of the vehicles included in the complaints about potential rollaway had their emergency parking brakes engaged, which the agency says can help to keep all cars in place after they are placed in park.

NHTSA said it has opened a preliminary evaluation “to assess the scope, frequency, and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect.”

Problems with FCA cars rolling away have been linked to the death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin in June. Yelchin’s family has sued FCA after his Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward after being parked in a driveway that had an incline, fatally pinning him against a mailbox pillar and security fence at his home.

Yelchin, 27, a rising star best known for playing Chekov in the rebooted “Star Trek” series, died June 19.

FCA spokesman Eric Mayne said the company is cooperating fully with NHTSA’s investigation and noted that the scope of the federal query is limited.

“Other vehicles equipped with rotary shifters are not included,” Mayne said in an email. “In accordance with prudent practice, the company joins NHTSA in urging all drivers to use their vehicles’ parking brakes.”

Additionally on Tuesday, NHTSA revealed it has opened an investigation of approximately 39,000 Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles that have received similar complaints about cars rolling away after being shifted to park. The separate investigation covers model year 2012-14 Land Rover Evoque and 2013 Jaguar XF vehicles.

NHTSA said it has received seven complaints about Land Rover and Jaguar vehicles rolling away after being shifted into park. The complaints included four reports about the cars moving while the driver door is open, resulting in injuries requiring medical attention. One complaint included a driver who reported being pinned against a garage wall.

NHTSA also has opened an investigation of about 42,875 Smart Fortwo cars after receiving eight complaints about incidents of fires in the engine compartment. The final investigation affects model year 2008 and 2009 Smart Fortwo vehicles. No injuries or fatalities were reported about the reported engine fires.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing