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Shifters under scrutiny

by David Zatz on

The US’ Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) opened Preliminary Evaluation PE15-030 around six months ago to dig deeper into complaints of rollaway after intended shifts to Park.

The issue is ZF’s “Monostable” electronic gearshift, which, rather than operating like every other console-mounted shifter, springs back to a centered position after it’s moved. The same setup was used on Audis and some other cars before Chrysler started to use it.

Safety provisions include requiring a side button to be pressed for various shifts (out of Park or Neutral, and from Drive to Reverse or Park). The gear is shown in the gauge cluster and on the shifter itself, and there are warning noises and displays if the door is opened while the transmission is not in Park; and the engine can’t be shut off by the pushbutton when the transmission is not in Park.

The agency noted that the latter protection does not cover drivers who leave the engine running while leaving.

The NHTSA wrote (as Allpar did in reviewing cars with this system) that  “operation of the Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”

For the Jeep Grand Cherokee, fourteen formal complaints were filed, but deeper investigation yielded 306 known incidents of rollaways and 117 possibly related crashes, 28 of which caused injuries, at least seven of which were serious.

The NHTSA then looked at 2012-14 Chrysler 300s and Dodge Chargers, which used the same shifter; they had eight complaints, four crashes, and two injuries reported. The NHTSA did not expand the investigation outside FCA US.

FCA stopped using the shifter setup in the 2015 large cars and the 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee.


David Zatz founded Allpar in 1998 (based on a site he had begun in 1993-94), after years of writing reviews for retail trades. He has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. Before making Allpar a full-time career, he was a consultant in organizational psychology. You can reach him by using our contact form (much preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304

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