Regulators Investigating 1M Dodge Trucks, SUVs Linked To Rollaway Incidents

Image courtesy of Jacob Grove

Six months after confusing gear shifters made headlines following the death of Star Trek Actor Anton Yelchin, federal regulators have opened a preliminary investigation into one million Dodge trucks and SUVs with similar shifters after receiving more than 40 complaints the vehicles have rolled away after drivers put them in the “Park” position. 

The  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating model year 2013 to 2016 Dodge Ram 1500 pickups and 2014 to 2016 Dodge Durango SUVs equipped with an electronic transmission with a rotary control to select gear position.

According to NHTSA documents [PDF] on the investigation, the agency has received 43 consumer complaints that allege “unintended motion occurred after the driver moved the transmission gear selector to park and exited the vehicle.”

In one incident, the owner of a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 reported to NHTSA’s consumer complaint database that after putting the vehicle in “Park” on a steep grade and turning off the ignition, the truck began to slowly roll away.

“I think I started the truck and pulled up two feet and performed the same operation again with the same results,” the owner says. “I think switched from two wheel drive to four wheel lock, put the dial to park, set the parking brake, turned off the ignition and after about 45 seconds the truck once again started once again rolling down the hill.”

Thirty-four of the reports alleged that the vehicle was moving while the shifter indicated that it was in the “park” position. Many of the incidents alleged the engine was running, however it was noted as off in a few cases. So far, NHTSA says it has linked 25 crashes and nine injuries to the issue.

The owner of a 2014 Dodge Ram reported to NHTSA’s consumer complaint database that his truck rolled way after he thought it was in “park.”

“The truck was parked, we exited the truck, I was getting bags out of the back seat and a friend was getting his tool bag out of the bed and when he leaned in, the truck began to roll,” he writes. “It rolled 15 feet and stopped when it hit a snow bank. I got in the truck and verified it was in park.”

In another complaint from Oct. 2014, the owner of a 2014 Durango tells NHTSA that shortly after getting the vehicle it rolled to the end of the driveway.

“I put the vehicle in park at the end of my driveway so I could check the mail,” the owner said. “While walking back to the vehicle from the mailbox, the vehicle started backing up a hill on its own. I had to run next to the vehicle, hanging partial inside the cab, to attempt to shut off the vehicle.”

The owner of a 2014 Ram 1500 tells NHTSA in a complaint that the vehicle rolled away on multiple occasions.

“While in park on a hill, the vehicle rolled way,” the complaint states. “The failure recurred on numerous occasions.”

CBS News reports that the rotary shifters used in the Ram and Durango vehicles debuted in 2013 and are also used in some Ford, Jaguar, and Chrysler vehicles.

However, in those vehicles, the shifters make an audible clicking sound when the gear is changed. Additionally, some Chrysler vehicles have a feature in which the electronic parking brake is engaged when the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled and the driver door is open. The affected Dodge Ram and Durango vehicles do not have this feature, CBS notes.

The preliminary evaluation has been opened to assess the scope, frequency, and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect, NHTSA says.

This, of course, isn’t the first time Dodge vehicles have been linked to confusing gear shifting. In April, Fiat Chrysler announced the recall of 811,586 model year 2012 to 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans and model year 2014 to 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs in order to alleviate confusion about when the vehicle’s transmissions are in the “park” position.

The crux of the problem is found in the design of the more intuitive electronic gear shifter. Unlike a traditional shifter, the electronic version is simply moved forward and backward to select gear. Once the gear has been selected, the shifter returns to the centered position.

This means the e-shifter lacks the typical grooves and sensation of moving the car into park, drive, or reverse that drivers are accustomed to.

Following the recall, NHTSA in June closed an investigation into the vehicles which were linked to 60 injuries and 266 crashes.