Adventures in Recalls: FCA's Shifter 'Visor Tips Card'

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

As a six-and-a-half-foot tall red-blooded male who’s driven in demolition derbies and owns John Deere machinery, I naturally gravitated to a big, rear-wheel drive, future Junkyard Find sedan when it came time to replace our family car four years ago. Settling on a Pentastar-powered 2012 Dodge Charger, one non-negotiable item was FCA’s 8.4-inch uConnect screen. The other was ZF’s eight-speed automatic.

As we know, hapless drivers have failed to put their ZF-equipped cars in Park, confused by the spring-loaded shifter’s design, which always returns it to a central position no matter what gear those drivers select. The NHTSA started an investigation and FCA voluntarily recalled over a million 2014-2015 Grand Cherokees and 2012-2014 Chargers/300s.

I got my recall notice in the mail yesterday, which provided me with two things: a “Visor Tips Card” and a good belly laugh.

Remember the Ford ‘ park-to-reverse’ mess of the early 1980s? In that case, a design defect reared its ugly head in the transmissions of just about every Ford built between the mid-1960s and 1980. A worn detent between Park and Reverse caused vehicles to slip out of gear and roll away. Faced with financial annihilation through the potential recall and repair of 23 million vehicles, Ford deployed intense legal wrangling, resulting in a pseudo-recall wherein Ford agreed to mail warning labels to all owners of these transmissions instead of actually fixing them.

Rather than a peel-n-stick label, FCA issued me a Visor Tips Card, approximately the size of an iPad Mini, festooned with graphics of my shifter and emblazoned with admonitions to ALWAYS VERIFY YOUR VEHICLE IS IN PARK and to APPLY THE PARKING BRAKE. The latter exhortation caused me to chuckle as FCA chose to deploy a pump-and-dump release for the foot operated e-brake in the 2012 Charger and not a pull-to-release handle. Some underling deep within the bowels of Auburn Hills had the unenviable task of describing how to use it in terms concise enough to fit on a Visor Tips Card.

Try to describe the process of disengaging a push-to-release e-brake to someone who is totally uninterested in cars and driving in general. Go ahead, give it a shot.

“Um, push down on that lever with your foot.”

“But you just said that’s how I engage the brake.”

“Yes. Now you need to push it harder to make it stop working.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Trust me.”

*car rolls into a school bus filled with disabled children*

If certain drivers can’t figure out how to put the bloody thing in Park, they certainly won’t be able to comprehend the legally approved description of how to disengage a pump-action parking brake. I’m sure members of the B&B can disengage such a parking brake in their sleep, but the chance of confusion is absolutely real in a world filled with oblivious drivers who, directed by their navigation systems, routinely drive into the sea.

Unlike Ford’s debacle, there is no mechanical problem with my Charger. FCA’s transmission is working exactly as designed. What FCA didn’t count on was bewildered mooks who would fail to see the illuminated capital P on top of the shifter and on the freakin’ dashboard right in front of them. Perhaps a big red STOP button, as seen inside some test mules in spy shots, would suffice.

Not many Ford owners back in the ‘80s actually slapped the goofy pseudo-recall stickers onto their dashboards, which makes FCA’s suggestion to place this Visor Tips Card “ideally, on your visor” all the more amusing. Rumour has it that if the Card ends up in my glovebox, Sergio himself will pay me a visit, affix the Card to my sun visor with pop rivets, then force me to launder several of his black sweaters.

The accompanying letter informed me FCA will contact me again with a follow-up recall notice when an actual remedy is available, which it suggests will be sometime in Q4 of this year. My money’s on some sort of software upgrade that’ll loudly warn of impending doom if I open the driver’s door without the car being in Park. I highly doubt they’re going to retrofit all these vehicles with the redesigned ZF shifter that started appearing in FCA products last year. Wager on an electronic parking brake appearing in the next Charger/300 refresh, whenever that happens.

At least I’ll get a set of wheel chocks out of the other recall.

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Moparmann Moparmann on Jun 08, 2016

    "A manual transmission. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a torque converter; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age." :-)

  • Maserchist Maserchist on Jun 14, 2016

    Pro drivers, stunt drivers, regular drivers, colonically challenged drivers, real drivers, fake drivers; It just may take the REAL Mythbusters to actually get to the bottom of this well of hell.

  • 1995 SC On the plus side, I found a sedan I want to buy
  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.
  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
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