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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 8, 2016

NHTSA expands investigation into rollaway incidents that might affect 850,000 Chrysler vehicles

By John Dumoulin

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has opened an Engineering Analysis into complaints that Chrysler vehicles are rolling away after drivers had intended to shift to “Park.” The vehicles that are the subject of the investigation are model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles and model year 2012-2014 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles (L-cars) equipped with 3.6L engines. It is estimated that as many as 856,284 vehicles are affected (NHTSA ODI InvestigationNo. EA16-002, February 3, 2016).

ODI opened Preliminary Evaluation PE15-030 on August 20, 2015, to investigate 14 complaints alleging incidents of rollaway after intended shifts to “Park” in as many as 408,000 model year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees vehicles. The model year 2014-2015 Grand Cherokee vehicles are equipped with Monostable electronic (“E-shift”) gearshift assemblies supplied by ZF Group (ZF). The E-shift system operates electronically, and the gear requested by the driver is transmitted from the shifter via the CAN Bus to the Transmission Control Module, which makes the requested shift. The Monostable gearshift does not move into a detent but springs back to a centered/neutral position after the driver selects a gear and releases the shifter. A button on the shift knob must be depressed to shift out of “Park,” to shift out of “Neutral,” and to shift from “Drive” to “Reverse” or “Park.”

The gear selected is shown on a display in the dash and illuminated letters on the shifter. If the driver’s door is opened when the gearshift is not in “Park,” a chime sounds and a message is displayed on the EVIC to warn the driver. In addition, the engine Start/Stop push-button control logic does not permit normal engine shut-off when the transmission is not in “Park.” This logic may provide feedback to drivers who attempt to turn the engine off when the transmission is not in “Park.” However, this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine continues to run after an attempted shut-off.

NHTSA testing during PE15-030 indicates that operation of the Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.

ODI’s analysis of the PE15-030 complaint and field report data identified 306 incidents of vehicle rollaway following intended shifts to “Park” in the 2014-2015 Grand Cherokee vehicles. These resulted in 117 alleged crashes. Twenty-eight of the crashes reportedly caused injuries, including three involving a fractured pelvis and four others requiring some degree of hospitalization (a ruptured bladder, fractured kneecap, broken ribs, damage to right leg). Other injuries include reports of a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees, severe bruising, and trauma to legs.

Model year 2012-2014 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles (L-cars) equipped with 3.6L engines use the same ZF Monostable shifter. ODI has received eight complaints, including four crashes and two injuries on the subject L-cars. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles changed the shifter design in the L-cars in model year 2015 and in the Grand Cherokee vehicles in model year 2016.

ODI said it was opening the Engineering Analysis to assess the scope, frequency, and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect.

Companies: Chrysler; FCA US LLC

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews

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