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Similar Gearshift in Jeep Recall Also Found in Other Carmakers' Models

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author photo by Russ Heaps July 2016

The April Jeep recall for a transmission-shifter issue is causing concern and confusion among some owners of specific model-year Jeep Grand Cherokees, who are unsure if their vehicles hold the same faulty transmission that fails to properly change to park. Delving into the recall may identify the cause in the high-profile accident that recently killed Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin.

Yelchin, who played Mr. Chekov in the current series of Star Trek films, was crushed to death when his Jeep Cherokee accidentally rolled back, pinning him to a mailbox pillar. Authorities have yet to determine exactly why the SUV rolled back or why Yelchin was behind his vehicle with the engine running in the first place, but there is a fair amount of speculation that the transmission issue specified in

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (FCA) recent voluntary recall of roughly 1.1 million sedans and SUVs contributed to the young actor's death.

The tragedy turned a spotlight on the FCA recall that, to that point, hadn't received much attention. Consumer Reports recently pointed out that there are other carmaker models with similar transmission designs.

FCA Recall Background

Including model-year 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans, as well as model-year 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokees, the recall came after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, responding to a number of consumer complaints, opened an official investigation. To date, FCA is aware of at least 41 injuries that may be related to confusion over park being engaged. If determined shifter confusion was at fault in his accident, Yelchin's will be the first death linked to the shifter design.

Among the 1.1 million vehicles recalled worldwide, roughly 812,000 are in the United States. Nearly 69,000 more are in Canada and Mexico, leaving about 249,000 scattered around the rest of the globe.

Since the well-publicized accident, FCA expanded the recall to include more than 13,000 2014 Maserati sedans.

FCA changed the shifter design in the Charger and 300 for the 2015 model year, as well as doing so in the Grand Cherokee for 2016.

The Problem

When Chrysler introduced its new 8-speed automatic transmission built by German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG in the affected vehicles, it adopted a new shifter as part of the package.

Unlike traditional automatic-transmission shifters that lock into place when you shift gears, shifting gears with the shift lever in the affected vehicles entails pushing the shift lever forward or pulling it backward to change gears, after which it returns to its default at-rest position in the center.

Although the recalled vehicles would chime alerts and issue warnings if the driver's door opened while the vehicle was running and not in park, it wasn't enough to prevent some drivers exiting their cars anyway.

Fiat-Chrysler Vehicles Not Alone

According to Consumer Reports, a number of other carmakers -- mostly luxury brands -- have similar electronic shifters. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and others have the same type of shifters. Consumer Reports also mentions the Cadillac XT5 crossover and Toyota Prius in this regard.

A major difference between the Fiat-Chrysler shifters and those of other carmaker models with similar shifter arrangements is that, rather than just sounding warnings, their transmissions are proactive, automatically engaging park when either the driver's door is opened or the ignition is turned off. The fix for the vehicles in the Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep recall includes changing the transmission software so that it will similarly automatically engage park under certain circumstances if the driver fails to do so.

What it means to you: Even in models with traditional shift levers that lock into place, drivers can become distracted and forget to engage park before attempting to exit the vehicle. It happens, but get in the habit of double-checking the gear selector indicator in your gauge cluster before removing your foot from the brake when completing a parking maneuver.

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Similar Gearshift in Jeep Recall Also Found in Other Carmakers' Models - Autotrader