FCA's Confusing Electronic Gear Shifter Design Leads to Rollaways

Posted on
Scott McCracken
#transmission #technology #recall
A dangerous design

The monostable electronic gear shifter is Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) vehicles has been disastrous. The confusing design is responsible for hundreds of rollaway incidents and widely believed to have caused actor Anton Yelchin’s death.

FCA and Dodge changed the design for newer cars, but it was too little, too late for many 2012-2014 Charger owners.

Dodge’s Monostable Design

While most things in cars are going electronic these days, it doesn’t always mean they’re getting better. Dodge is one of a number of automakers to experiment with electronic gear shifters instead of the traditional shifter lever with a classic, embedded-in-your-muscle-memory “PRNDL” (park, reverse, neutral, drive, low) gear order.

Since electronic gear shifters are no longer mechanically tied to the transmission, automakers aren’t tied to classic designs. That means gear shifters can be made smaller, and moved for more “important” marketable things like extra cup holders and wireless charging pads.

FCA and Dodge went with a monostable lever that may look traditional, but has some very unintuitive features:

  1. The shifter is monostable, which means whenever it’s it always returns to center after a gear change. That’s a big change from traditional shifters.
  2. The shifter has a visual indication of the gear, but the lever itself lacks tactile feedback making it hard to feel which gear you’re in.
  3. It strays from the traditional “PRNDL” gear order that has been standard for so many years. Instead drivers have to push up to get into reverse, down for drive, up for down, cats for dogs, etc. It’s just not intuitive.

The result? Owners complain that the clicks between gears are barely noticeable and the overall design is confusing. That’s resulted in hundreds of reports of cars rolling away because the owner thought they were in park, when they were really still in neutral.

The terrible design forced FCA to release a video so people could learn how to shift gears in their vehicles. It all just feels so … unnecessary.

Why Wasn’t There a Fail-Safe In Place?

BMW and Mercedes have fail-safe modes in place that automatically put the car in park if the car is in neutral and the door is opened or the keyless ignition is pressed.

FCA, meanwhile, just threw some chimes in your direction. Jonathon Linkov, Consumer Report's deputy auto editor, wonders why more wasn’t done to alert drivers.

”It is confusing and odd and then it doesn't have any safety mechanism. What we would like to see is that there is a fail-safe so at the end of the day you don't have a problem with cars going to launch forward, roll backward, move in some way that the consumer's not expecting it."

NHTSA Investigations into e-Shift Design Lead to a Recall

In August 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into the gear shifters, but limited their scope to the 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. By the following February, NHTSA expanded their investigation to include the 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300.

NHTSA says to date, there are 306 incidents of Jeep Grand Cherokees rolling away after owners believed the SUVs were shifted into "Park." The 306 rollaway incidents resulted in 117 alleged crashes and 28 injuries. Those injuries include pelvic fractures, broken kneecaps, a ruptured bladder, busted ribs, sprained knees, trauma to the legs, lacerations to the face and various other injuries.

A Massive Recall for Rollaways

Feeling the heat from NHTSA, FCA decided to recall all the investigated vehicles in April 2016.

FCA US has therefore determined that the absence of an additional mechanism to mitigate the effects of driver error in failing to shift the monostable gear selector into PARK prior to exiting the vehicle constitutes a defect presenting a risk to motor vehicle safety.

Read more about the recall and suggested fix on ChryslerProblems.com.

Actor Anton Yeltsin Killed in Accident Involving the e-Shift Design

The rollaway problem was thrust into the spotlight shortly after the announced recall when actor Anton Yelchin was killed by his Jeep Cherokee when it rolled away and pinned him.

The investigation is in the beginning stages and information is limited, but it's known Yelchin exited the Jeep Grand Cherokee which rolled backward and down a driveway, pinning the actor between the Jeep and a concrete mailbox.

The Center for Auto Safety called Yelchin’s death an example of incompetence by federal regulators and automakers in discovering, fixing, and alerting owners of potentially deadly defects.

FCA issued an interim notification letter that said the gear selectors would be repaired by the fourth quarter of 2016, something CAS says proves the automaker wasn't too concerned about the matter.

A Change in Design

Even though they had closed their investigation, NHTSA later announced FCA’s electronic shifters are just poorly designed:

appear to violate several basic design guidelines for vehicle controls

FCA changed from a monostable to a polystable design in 2016, and gave other vehicles completely new gear shift assemblies. For example, the 2017 Grand Cherokee sports a traditional shift lever, and the Durango and Chrysler 300 use rotary-dial shifters.

The gear shifter in question can be found in 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers, and 2012-2014 Chrysler 300 vehicles.

Lawsuits Regarding This Problem

Lawsuits about this problem have already been filed in court. Many times these are class-action suits that look to cover a group of owners in a particular area. Click on the lawsuit for more information and to see if you're eligible to receive any potential settlements.

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Dodge generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at CarComplaints.com.

  1. The government has closed their investigation into FCA’s electronic gear shifters after the automaker agreed to a software update recall.

    But that doesn't mean they like the design change, saying the "monostable shifter isn't consistent and simply isn't easy to use."

    And yet, it appears at this point the only thing drivers have to look forward to is more chimes and audible warnings.

    keep reading article "How Many Accidents Have Electronic Gear Shifters Caused?"
  2. Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) is recalling 1.1 million vehicles with electronic gear selectors.

    While the system is working as it was designed, it's the design that's the problem.

    "A driver should know the gear-selection based on multiple sets of indicator lights, unlike normal shifters that use a gear-selector position. However, hundreds of drivers have caused their vehicles to roll away because of not realizing the vehicles aren't in Park."

    An investigation was opened earlier this year. One or two rollaways might be an accident, but hundreds? That screams of a "back to the drawing board" situation for the FCA team.…

    keep reading article "Electronic Gear Shifter Rollaways Lead to Massive FCA Recall"
  3. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into e-Shift last summer.

    They have since upgraded the investigation to an engineering analysis and have included the Dodge Charger.

    "NHTSA says to date, there are 306 incidents of Jeep Grand Cherokees rolling away after owners believed the SUVs were shifted into "Park." The 306 rollaway incidents resulted in 117 alleged crashes and 28 injuries. Those injuries include pelvic fractures, broken kneecaps, a ruptured bladder, busted ribs, sprained knees, trauma to the legs, lacerations to the face and various other injuries."…

    keep reading article "Dodge Charger Added to FCA e-Shift Investigation"

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA