In one of this year's biggest automotive recalls, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced that it planned to recall 1.8 million Dodge Ram pickup trucks. The reason: the trucks can shift out of park at times without the driver's foot on the brake.
The company said in an announcement that the recall is happening after seven people suffered minor injuries and a "small number" of crashes that could be traced back to the issue.
Units affected include heavy-duty pickups dating back to 2009, and the recall also includes light-duty Ram pickups as well. More spcifically, the trucks involved include the following: Ram 1500, 2500, 3500, 4500, and 5500 pickups between the 2009 and 2017 model years. However, the company noted that Ram trucks built after December 31, 2016 aren't affected by the issue and thus excluded from the recall.
Tom McCarthy serves as Fiat Chrysler's head of safety compliance and product analysis. He said that until the fix is available and installed, drivers should always make sure one piece is always used -- the parking brake.
"We urge customers to use their parking brakes, as recommended, and to ensure that child occupants are not left unattended," he said.
Fiat Chrysler noted that a potential issue could be excessive heat collecting around the gearshift. The heat buildup stems from a number of scenarios such as the truck idling in park for too long or a driver keeping her foot on the brake for more time than normal. The company also said the specific part affect is the brake transmission shift interlock. This device typically stops a car from moving out of park until a driver releases pressure of the brake pedal.
In short, overheated units negatively affect the performance fo the shift interlock, potentially compromising it and causing it to fail, the company noted.
Fiat Chrysler Again in Focus
Fiat Chrysler isn't a stranger to headline-making issues. A gear shifting defect led to a 2016 investigation after actor Anton Yelchin was killed in his Jeep Grand Cherokee. The 27-year-old Star Trek actor died after his car rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a security fence. The full cause of death was ruled "blunt traumatic asphyxia."
"Drivers erroneously concluding that their vehicle’s transmission is in the ‘park’ position may be struck by the vehicle and injured if they attempt to get out of the vehicle while the engine is running and the parking brake is not engaged," Fiat Chrysler said in a report about the problem following Yelchin's death. That recall affected more than 850,000 Jeep Cherokee units.
While both recalls involved the shifter, the Grand Cherokee's shifting mechanism is different than that of the Dodge Ram. The shifter styles affected by the latest recalls are mounted on the truck's steering column. Ram trucks with gearshifts mounted on the floor are unaffected by this newer recall, according to the company.
In 2015, Fiat Chryslter was fined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to quickly notify ownders of recalls and delayed repairs. That problem affected 23 recalls and over 11 million vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also fined Fiat Chrysler a whopping $105 million dollars for how slowly they told customers about the issues.