Is 'Auto Park' the Cure for Runaway Jeeps?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
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is auto park the cure for runaway jeeps

A software fix issued to Jeep dealers sheds light on how Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to stop the accidental rollaways plaguing many of its vehicles.

The dealer service document, issued for recalled 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees with the confusing Monostable shift lever, was obtained and published by Jalopnik.

FCA voluntarily recalled 1.1 million vehicles in April after the shifter, which sometimes stays in gear after drivers think they’ve shifted into “park,” was linked to hundreds of rollaways and 41 injuries. That was before the shifter became the focus in the recent death of actor Anton Yelchin.

Yelchin died this past weekend after his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee apparently rolled down his driveway and pinned him against a brick gatepost. The vehicle — one of the models equipped with the problematic shift lever — was found in neutral, with the engine running.

FCA didn’t exactly say what the fix would be at the time of the recall. In a statement, it mentioned that a warning chime (which sounds when the driver’s door is ajar and the transmission is out of “park”) would be upgraded and combined with “a transmission-shift strategy to automatically prevent a vehicle from moving, under certain circumstances, even if the driver fails to select ‘PARK.'”

The Jalopnik document provides details on the bigger fix. Called “Auto Park,” the feature updates the software of the transmission control module, powertrain control module, radio frequency hub and instrument panel cluster. The four modules must be reprogrammed in a certain order, with the fix taking about two hours to complete.

Once installed, the “Auto Park” feature “eliminates the possibility of the driver inadvertently failing to place the transmission into ‘PARK’ prior to exiting the vehicle,” according to the manufacturer.

Because the Monostable shifter on FCA’s eight-speed automatics is electronic, a vehicle could be programmed to automatically shift into “park” under certain conditions.

On Monday, FCA said it would investigate whether the shifter issue was a factor in Yelchin’s death.

Steph Willems
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  • Hoon Goon Hoon Goon on Jun 23, 2016

    I agree that FCA should have designed a "better" shifter, but here is the deal: I am as sympathetic to people getting smashed by these things as I am someone who wadded up their car having fun. When are human beings going to take responsibility for their own lives and safety, rather that wait on Uncle Sam and Corporation X to protect them from their own stupid selves? I have read all the "reports" out right now and all this equates to is IDIOTS going out to buy a car and think all they need to do is put gas in it and take it to the dealer. Is it so hard to ask someone to learn how to operate the damn machinery that they purchased? Should they be operating a 5,000 LB machine if they can't figure out how to properly park their car? This may have not been an optimal design, but to expect Gubbmint and CEO to save IDIOTS from themselves at great expense. My solution is for FCA to send all owners a notice to read their friggin owner's manual, but I guess reading and learning is too hard. Definitely not recall material. For the record, I have nor ever will own anything FCA. They have never produced anything of interest for me and I don't think they ever will. This country needs more Darwin, not less. Have you looked around lately? It's getting pretty bad, car lovers.

  • Beelzebubba Beelzebubba on Jun 23, 2016

    Last August, on my semi-annual trip to Los Angeles to visit my cousin, my rental car was a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. I loved the vehicle and more than once thought that I would love to own one if not for the reliability issues. But that damn shifter drove me insane!!! Anyone who has driven in 'The Valley' (Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Canoga Park in particular) has probably noticed the lack of left turn signals at intersections. Here in Georgia, almost every intersection has a green left turn arrow (left-turning vehicles have the right of way) followed by a green light (left turns can be made when oncoming traffic, or lack thereof, permits). Not so much in the parts of LA where I drive. Divided streets are also fairly common, which make U-turns a routine part of driving. On my second day driving the Jeep, I found myself caught in a very difficult position. I was attempting a U-turn but the road was too narrow for the Jeep's turning radius, requiring a 3-point U-turn. In other words, I couldn't quite make a full U-turn, so I had to back up a bit before I could proceed in the opposite direction. What would have been routine anxiety quickly turned into a full-on panic attack as I fought with the shifter attempting to get it into Reverse. I was blocking oncoming traffic and have been hit at any moment (and it would have been my fault)! I quickly decided that my only safe course of action was to simply drive over the curb that was blocking my U-turn. The Jeep was 4wd and it was a rental, so why not? Thankfully I didn't damage the vehicle or cause an accident, but that freakin' shifter was/is very dangerous! It's also very frustrating when shifting from one position to another, such as backing out of a parking spot then trying to shift into Drive from Reverse. I could see how leaving it in gear could happen. In a 'keyed' car, you wouldn't be able to remove the key from the ignition without the lever being in the Park position. But what safeguards exist for cars with push-button/keyless ignition??? The design of the shifter used in the 2014/2015 JGC was idiotic. I'm glad to see that the 2016 has a conventional shifter once again. I wonder if the 2014/2015 models could be retro-fitted with the knob/dial used in the Dodge Durango?

  • MaintenanceCosts So there is no Sonata trim without some type of Theta engine.It seems like they've been doing a bit better when attached to a hybrid system, so that's probably the one to get, but they're going to have to go several years without further engine troubles before I'd trust a H/K ICE product again.
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  • Art_Vandelay Autonomous capabilities are being deployed (or planned anyway) in multiple combat vehicles. Should be fun from my perspective
  • Drew8MR Interior is trivial now you can get repro everything in various levels of quality. Getting the top sorted will be a couple grand, but I'd drive it as it. I drove a $1500 67 GTO convertible for 20 years, not every old car needs to be like new.
  • John Not everyone pays that much for power. Mine is 10 cents per kw…..