Fiat Chrysler is voluntarily recalling 811,586 Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep vehicles after a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation found numerous instances of drivers mistakenly exiting their vehicles without shifting into Park.
The recall affects certain 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s, which are equipped with an electronic shifter made by automotive supplier ZF.
The electronic shifter in the affected vehicles works more like a joystick, returning to its center position once you've selected your gear. There is no gate around the shifter; the lever itself moves through somewhat subtle detents, and the whole range of motion is incredibly short compared to a traditional mechanical shifter, perhaps two or three inches from end to end. This design, we should point out, is not exclusive to Fiat Chrysler vehicles—it's used by other automakers including Audi.
An NHTSA investigation into 41 injury-causing rollaway incidents found that none of the vehicles involved exhibited mechanical malfunctions, pointing to driver error rather than equipment failure.
As we reported in February, the NHTSA says the design of this shifter is "not intuitive," and that the device offers "poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection." In Fiat Chrysler vehicles that use this shifter, opening the driver's door when the car is not in Park triggers a chime and an instrument cluster alert, and the engine cannot be turned off with the car in gear, but NHTSA says the 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."
FCA's includes more urgent warning chimes and dashboard displays to alert drivers before exiting a car that's in gear, and updated transmission software that will "automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select Park." The automaker does not currently use the affected shifter design in any of its vehicles.