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Ram Engineering Analysis EA19004: Steering loss due to linkage separation
2018 Ram 3500
Steering loss due to linkage separation
- On December 17, 2018, NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) opened Preliminary Evaluation (PE) 18-016 to investigate two complaints alleging the steering system failed on model year (MY) 2015 and 2016 Ram 2500 manufactured by FCA US, LLC (FCA). Both vehicles were equipped with four-wheel drive and both failures occurred while the vehicle was in operation. The failures were allegedly due to the separation of the drag link, a steering linkage that connects between the right front steering knuckle and the pitman arm on the steering box output shaft. The separation occurred at a threaded coupler within the drag link intended to be used for adjusting the length of the linkage during routine maintenance (alignment) of the steering system. Once separation occurs, turning the steering wheel has no effect, and there is no way for the driver to control or maintain the direction of the vehicle.In the course of PE18-016, it was ascertained that the same threaded coupler was utilized on two different drag link designs FCA manufactured on MY 2013-2018 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups. FCA refers to the designs as either 4x2 or 4x4 style drag links. In both designs, the coupler is prevented from turning on the drag link via two jam nuts that are tightened against the coupler. In its response to NHTSA's March 15, 2019, Information Request (IR) letter, FCA identified 48 incidents alleging separation of the steering linkage at the coupler resulting in a loss of steering control. Of those, 13 involved a crash, one of which resulted in an injury. All of the separations involved the 4x4 style drag link. Additionally, FCA's IR response makes reference to over 300 4x4 style equipped vehicles that experienced, or may have experienced loosening of one or more coupler jam nuts.On January 25, 2019, FCA submitted a Defect Information Report (DIR) initiating NHTSA Recall No. 19V-021. In its DIR, FCA stated that the outboard jam nut in certain MY 2013-2018 Ram 2500 and 3500 could loosen potentially resulting in damage to the coupler and/or drag link threading allowing one end of the drag link to separate. The DIR notes that drag link separation results in loss of steering control, which in turn can cause a crash without warning. FCA's DIR did not identify a root cause for the defect, however it posits that an improperly torqued outboard jam nut could loosen, and with long-term vehicle use, cause damage to the outer link bar and/or coupler threads due to relative motion between the two components. The scope of Recall 19V-021 included vehicles equipped with the 4x4 style drag link only.Also discussed in its IR response, FCA noted that the 4x2 style drag link contains a design difference (the outboard portion of the drag link is straight while the 4x4 style contains a bend) which it suggests may result in differences in the mechanical (bending) loads presented at the coupler and jam nut interface.Moreover the DIR states that "While root cause of the 4x4 style defect has not been established, FCA US believes that bending loads on the drag link is, at least, a causal contributing factor."As further evidence supporting its belief the 4x2 style drag link does not pose an unreasonable risk, FCA cites no reports alleging 4x2 style separation as well as only three reports of loosening of jam nuts, two of which resulted in loosening that provided clear and obvious warning to the vehicle operator, indicating a different failure mode. During the EA, ODI will continue to monitor the subject 4x2 style vehicles for evidence of field failures. Additionally, and in conjunction with NHTSA's Vehicle Research and Test Center, ODI intends to more thoroughly study potential root cause(s) of the 4x4 style defect mechanism, and if identified, will seek to determine if the 4x2 drag link is susceptible to the same mechanism(s).NHTSA will also evaluate the long-term suitability of the recall remedy FCA has implemented for NHTSA Recall No. 19V-021.
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