Like an unoccupied Dodge Charger stuck in “Drive,” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ gear selector controversy was rapidly building momentum before yesterday’s announcement.
Responding to numerous instances of runaway vehicles and an expanding National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation, FCA voluntarily recalled 811,586 vehicles in the U.S. and 52,144 in Canada, and a further 265,473 in Mexico and overseas.
The recalled models â€” certain 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s, and 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees â€” were equipped with the company’s eight-speed automatic transmission and featured a gear selector that bewildered many owners. Some drivers exited their vehicles after mistakenly believing the selector was in “Park,” leading to 41 known injuries.
In a statement, FCA said the accidents were due to driver error, and emphasized that the gear selectorsÂ â€” though confusingÂ â€” functioned as designed:
The vehicles affected by this recall are equipped with electronic shift levers that return to the same position after each manipulation. Gear-selection is conveyed to the driver by multiple sets of indicator lights, not gear-selector position, and unless due care is taken, drivers may draw erroneous conclusions about the status of their vehicles.
The automaker stopped using the gear selector after complaints piled up. The NHTSA began investigating those complaints last summer.
FCA said a warning chime sounds when the affected vehicle’s engine is running, the driver’s side door is ajar and the gear selector is out of Park, but that warning will be upgraded.
Other safety measures are planned, though the automaker remains vague on exactly what the fix will be. In their words, “The enhancements will combine warnings with a transmission-shift strategy to automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select â€œPARK.â€�