Jeep Recalled For Gear Shift Issue Linked To Star Trek Actor’s Death

Image courtesy of Van Swearington

When Fiat Chrysler (FCA) recalled 811,000 Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles in April over concerns about the cars’ confusing electronic gear shifter, the carmaker said it was aware of more than 100 crashes, including 41 injuries, resulting from drivers inadvertently leaving their vehicles in gear with the engine running. The issue is now being linked to the death of a young actor over the weekend. 

The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed on Monday that 27-year-old Anton Yelchin was killed on Sunday when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee was left in neutral and apparently rolled down his driveway when he was outside of it, crushing him against a gate, Jalopnik reports.

Authorities also confirmed that Yelchin’s vehicle was part of FCA’s April recall that was initiated in order to alleviate confusion about when the vehicle’s transmissions are in the “park” position.

However, it’s important to note that an investigation into Yelchin’s death is ongoing and authorities have not determined the exact cause of the wreck.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells Consumerist that it is aware of the situation and will release a statement later this afternoon.

FCA declined to provide specific comment to Jalopnik on the incident, but said that it had sent owners of affected vehicles instructions on how to work the shifter and tip sheets describing proper operation of the shifter.

We’ve reached out to FCA for comment on the tragic accident and the vehicle involved. We’ll update this post when we hear back.

In April, the carmaker recalled [PDF] 811,586 model year 2012 to 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans and model year 2014 to 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs. At the time of the recall, FCA said it was aware of 41 injuries related to the issue. Vehicles involved in those incidents were inspected and no evidence of equipment failure was found.

The carmaker says the recall was initiated to “enhance” warnings and transmission shift strategy after an investigation by NHTSA and FCA found some drivers have exited their vehicles without first selecting “Park.”

According to a notice [PDF] filed with NHTSA, the investigation – which was first opened in August 2015 related to 408,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees – centered on vehicles equipped with Monostable electronic (E-shift) gearshifts. NHTSA said at the time it had received 14 consumer complaints about the vehicles rolling away from their supposed parked position.

The shift system in the affected vehicles operates electronically and the gear selection is made by pressing the shifter-paddle forward or backwards; the shifter does not move along a gate path as with conventional gear selectors.

Unlike traditional gearshifters, the electronic version doesn’t actually remain placed in the intended selection, the shifter is designed to spring back to a centered position.

If a driver opens his or her door when the gearshift isn’t in “park,” a chime rings and a message pops up to alert them that the transmission is not in “park.” The engine also will not turn off normally without the transmission in “park.”

Safety regulators determined in February – when the investigation [PDF] was expanded to include 400,000 more Jeep, as well as Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles – that this function does not protect drivers who “intentionally leave the engine running or those who do not realize that the engine is still running after an attempted shut-off.”

As a result, drivers may exit the vehicle when the engine is running and the transmission is not in “park,” leaving the unattended vehicle to roll away.

Through April, NHTSA says it had identified 121 incidents that have resulted in crashes or fires, with 30 incidents involving injuries to drivers or passengers such as a broken nose, facial lacerations requiring stitches, sprained knees, severe bruising, and trauma to legs.