— Chrysler electronic shifters "appear to violate several basic design guidelines for vehicle controls," according to an investigation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The government closed the investigation after Fiat Chrysler (FCA US) ordered a recall of more than 1 million vehicles to update software related to the gear shifters. However, NHTSA says it found problems with the electronic gear shifters that use monostable electronic (shift-by-wire) gearshift assemblies.
The Chrysler electronic shifters used in 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s and 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees are confusing to drivers, especially those who don't pay attention to indicator lights. The electronic shifter looks like a normal gear shifter used with automatic transmissions, but the monostable shifter acts nothing like a typical shifter.
The Chrysler monostable shifter has a central neutral position the lever moves back to each time the driver releases the shifter. Going by the feel or location of the shifter is useless as the only way to know if a vehicle is in PARK is to look at indicator lights on the gear shifter and instrument panel.
A driver must take the time to look at the lights before exiting the vehicle to make sure the vehicle is in PARK or else the vehicle could roll away, especially if the parking brake isn't applied.
NHTSA says owners started complaining about the electronic gear shifters as soon as vehicles hit the streets. To date, NHTSA is aware of nearly 700 complaints, 68 reported injuries and 266 reported crashes related to the gear shifters.
Safety regulators say the design of the shifter is so problematic that Chrysler switched to "polystable" gearshift assemblies that stay in the position of the selected gear, making the shifters similar to standard shifters used with automatic transmissions.
According to the government, the monostable shifter isn't consistent and simply isn't easy to use, something important to maintain vehicle safety.
NHTSA admitted the vehicles have warnings to prevent drivers from leaving the vehicles without the vehicles in PARK, including audible chimes and visual warning messages used to alert a driver if the driver-side door is opened while the transmission is not in PARK. However, drivers continue to ignore the warnings.
The government described different conditions reported by owners and how Chrysler says it will fix the problems.
1. A driver believes they put the vehicle in PARK and attempts to shut off the vehicle using the ignition On/Off button, then exits the vehicle without realizing the vehicle is not in PARK and the engine continues to run.
FCA says it will make the vehicle automatically shift to PARK and shut the engine off when the vehicle speed is 1.2 mph or less and the ignition On/Off button is pressed.
2. A driver believes the vehicle is in PARK and intentionally leaves the vehicle running and attempts to exit the vehicle.
Chrysler will update software to make the vehicle automatically shift to PARK if the transmission is not in PARK, the vehicle speed is 1.2 mph or less, the driver’s seat belt is unbuckled or the driver’s door is ajar and the brake pedal is not depressed.
3. A driver attempts to shift into PARK when the vehicle is moving, but the vehicle speed is too high to engage PARK, causing the vehicle to default to NEUTRAL. This causes a message to say: “Vehicle Speed is too high to shift.”
Chrysler says it will make sure a vehicle automatically shifts to PARK if vehicle speed drops to 1.2 mph or less within 5 seconds of the attempted shift to PARK.
In closing its investigation, NHTSA mentioned the death of actor Anton Yelchin who was killed when his Jeep Grand Cherokee crushed him between a concrete mailbox and the Jeep.
Safety regulators say Yelchin's death "may" be related to the electronic gear shifter in the Grand Cherokee, but investigators are still looking at the incident.