By on December 20, 2016

2016 Ram 1500 R/T interior center stack, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Just when it thought a troubling roll-away controversy and resulting recall was almost behind it, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles finds itself under investigation for a similar problem.

This time, it isn’t the now-defunct Monostable gear shift that supposedly confused drivers — it’s the rotary shifter found in late-model vehicles. After numerous complaints, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into 1 million FCA vehicles that could pose a roll-away risk.

According to online documents, NHTSA has the 2013-2016 Ram 1500 and 2014-2016 Dodge Durango in its sights. Both models use FCA’s rotary dial gear shift. While the shifters differ vastly from the Monostable units in terms of operation, owners report the same troubling issue.

NHTSA reports 43 complaints of vehicles rolling away from a stop. Of those incidents, 25 crashes and nine injuries resulted from the unexpected driverless excursions.

There’s a key difference between these rollaways and the earlier incidents (which may have contributed to the high-profile death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin). With the old Monostable unit, the shift lever returned to a center position after shifting, leaving no visual indicator that the vehicle was actually in park. The rotary dial, however, clearly indicates that the vehicle is in park. Drivers can feel the shifter click into gear, while an indicator light appears above the selected gear.

Of the 43 complaints, 34 owners say the vehicle moved on its own after the gear selector was placed in park. In each of those cases, the parking brake was not set and the engine was running.

While FCA hasn’t issued a recall of the affected models, it did warn owners to use the parking brake — a suggestion also issued by NHTSA. The automaker claims the rotary shifters found in the Chrysler Pacifica and 200 aren’t part of the investigation, as those vehicles automatically shift into park when drivers unbuckle their seatbelts or open their door.

[Source: Associated Press] [Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]

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46 Comments on “Different FCA Shifter, Same Problem? NHTSA Investigates Ram, Durango Rollaways...”

  • avatar

    Although the round shifter offers both visual and tactile feedback, I wonder if this is an example of bad things happening when a familiar interface is changed?

    Other than saving space, I don’t see why a traditional lever with the familiar P-R-N-D-L pattern couldn’t be used.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      It’s cheaper to build a rheostatic control knob than a gated shifter assembly.

      • 0 avatar

        Not only that but this takes up less space in cockpits that are running out of real estate for controls.

        • 0 avatar

          I think cost reduction is prioritized over space reduction. If they wanted a familiar interface that didn’t use space they could just go with a column shifter. Everybody knows how those work

          • 0 avatar

            The column shifter can get in the way, too. Especially if its like most cars with a RH wiper stalk. I know they’ve done it, to various degrees of success IMO.

            But, I think that space reduction and cost reduction are only part of it. People like new things, things that have a technologically advanced feel to them.

            Clunking a column shifter around feels old school. Turning a dial to make the vehicle move in your chosen direction feels more advanced. Its the way you might expect a Star Trek shuttle craft to feel (even though they just used a touch screen to program the shuttle in the show on the later shows, buttons on TOS). My point is, it feels more futuristic than working the same mechanical selector as your grandmother’s 1985 Town Car.

            This is also why push button start has become such a craze.
            “Ohh, I don’t turn a key. Look, gurl, I don’t HAVE a key! I can start my car with a button on the dash and little fob in my purse! Without touching a stone-age key! I’m in the future even though this Altima is noisier than a 1992 Accord! Sold!”

            Hell, in 2002 I test drove a beater E4WD Aerostar with more miles than the space shuttle at a clunker car lot (looking for a work vehicle, I didn’t buy this one), and it had “custom” push button start. Which was apparently easier to set up than simply replacing the ignition part that wore out, although I personally think it was a time consuming and less than ideal way to deal with the issue it bypassed.

            Race cars have had it for a long time, it’s nothing new, just being able to use it with a proximity fob is new. I have no doubt it’s cheaper than a mechanical ignition tumbler once the development was paid for.

            But its so cool, man! LOL
            if they came out with a joystick instead of a steering wheel and pedals, I bet people would go nuts for it, even though it’d be freakin’ pointless.

          • 0 avatar

            My uncle’s ’71 Citroen DS wagon had a pushbutton starter. So did most cars prior to the starter being integrated into the ignition key cylinder. Pushbutton starters are nothing new.

    • 0 avatar

      The pattern on the knob is P-R-N-D.

      • 0 avatar

        Personally, I dislike the dial transmission selector. I liked my experience with driving a new Chrysler 200 for a week, but gradually grew to dislike the shifter selector the longer I used the car. Ideally, whether manual or automatic, I want a floor lever, with a column shifter or instrument panel lever (a-la ’55 Chrysler products)as distant seconds. Choosing a dial transmission selector is not fashionable, it’s so knucklehead-centric.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 2017 Dodge Durango and I can assure all of you there are issues with this Gear selector / Transmission. I have had mine drive forward while taking shopping bags out of the hatch area. If my kids were around this could have killed them. I also have tried to open the door to see if that forced it into park as it is supposed to. It does most of the time, however about every 24 times this feature does not work. When selecting a gear from drive to reverse I have had it go to park and get locked in that gear. And when you need to reverse quickly and this happens, and you are stuck in an intersection it becomes very serious. I have video of these issues and its been at the dealer for almost two weeks now, and the engineers at dodge are clueless as to what is going on. Dodge is also afraid to call this a safety issue and will only say yes their is a issue. Mike Macdonald from Dodge at 586-274-8085 is some big wig at Dodge and his concern is I am trying to get a new Vehicle. I have tried to explain to him, I love the Durango, I just don’t want to take a chance of Someone getting hurt or worse. His suggestion was to trade it in and he would offer me employee pricing on another vehicle. This is crazy my safety issue would become someone else’s this is not how you fix problems. Now to see that Dodge in the 2018’s have switched back to a more traditional style shifter has to tell you they don’t want to keep having these issues. I think this is an accident waiting to happen, and Dodge would rather keep their costs down than to address a issue on every car they designed. And until they can point fingers at a individual company like takata air bags, they will never say its a safety issue.

      • 0 avatar

        My Ram 1500 has the same dial, except dash mounted. I have never had a problem in 30 K miles…except once, when I parked in the garage, pulling forward enough to have the sensors tell me I was very close to the work bench. I generally do that, then twist the knob to reverse to see if the trailer hitch has cleared the door opening before pushing the button to close the door. I found myself inadvertently twisting the knob from reverse to drive, released the brake, and bumped the workbench which was only inches away, so no harm done…

  • avatar

    Frankly, I’m not buying the assertion that the dial was in park but the car rolled away anyway. (Smacks of “the harder I pushed the brake, the faster the car went!”)

    That said, why can they not implement a mechanism that keeps you from removing the key unless the car is in Park?

    • 0 avatar

      First, there’s no keys, there’s fobs. Second, these people got out of the vehicle while it was on and running.

      I think the best idea is to shift to Park and set the parking brake any time the driver side door is opened from the inside.

  • avatar

    As with keyless starting, the people most drawn to why-tech are the people least capable of operating it without hazard.

    • 0 avatar
      Add Lightness

      As a middle age luddite gearhead, I totally agree except I DO like the idea of a push button starter. Perhaps due to battles with ignition keys in my past.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m a past middle age L-G and I prefer the ability to turn off the engine with a quick flick of the wrist. I had occasion to do that to avoid a runaway car. Why do you have to hold down the button for three seconds to turn it off? That’s a long time in a panic situation.

        WRT the issue, who leaves the engine running and gets out of the car without using the parking brake? Probably people who NEVER use the parking brake, know what it’s for, or don’t even know the car has one. The NHTSA might start jumping on states that issue licenses to such people.

  • avatar

    “Of the 43 complaints, 34 owners say the vehicle moved on its own after the gear selector was placed in park. In each of those cases, the parking brake was not set and the engine was running.”

    No sh!t, Sherlock. USE the parking brake. I’ve had (friendly) arguments with people about using the parking brake on automatic cars. I was taught by my father to always use the parking brake, no exceptions. Make it an automatic (ha!) part of your routine when exiting the car.

    “…the rotary shifters found in the Chrysler Pacifica and 200 aren’t part of the investigation, as those vehicles automatically shift into park when drivers unbuckle their seatbelts or open their door.”

    Really? I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to open my door to look backwards when reversing into an area. That feature would really be awful for me.

    • 0 avatar

      “…I like to open my door to look backwards when reversing into an area…” Personally, in most parking situations for me, there’s not enough space backing out of my driveway or leaving a parking lot space to intentionally make my car wider and possibly snag the mirror or outside handle of an adjacent car by opening my door – why do modern passenger cars have back-up cameras and large outside mirrors, if not to resist the temptation to open a door to see back? Opening your door, solely because you always did it that way sounds like the driver who never buckles up because “I just don’t like the feel of being tied down to the seat”. Old habits die hard, even though they rightfully should be broken. Practice backing up with your mirrors and without opening your door, and soon it will seem second nature.

    • 0 avatar

      “Really? I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to open my door to look backwards when reversing into an area. That feature would really be awful for me.”

      The last person I ever saw do that was my grandfather. I assume it was a byproduct of an era when cars didn’t always have mirrors on both sides.

  • avatar

    If a vehicle rolls away by itself, the only person to blame is the operator. Setting the parking brake is a sure way to prevent this from happening.

    In Park without the parking brake, the vehicle is restrained only by the park pawl. It isn’t that strong. A guy I used to know left his minivan on a hill in Park. To get it out of Park, he had to pull so hard on the shift lever that he broke the pawl. He was very angry when the manufacturer refused to repair the transmission under warranty.

    • 0 avatar

      Growing up in hilly country, one learned to use the parking brake to avoid having to wrench the gear lever to get out of park.

      I think folks really don’t understand how small and weak the parking pawl is. I have to imagine that it’s only gotten smaller and weaker as companies have sought to cut costs.

      I’m not willing to place that much trust in a small piece of metal…

      • 0 avatar

        They are by no means insubstantial, here is an image of one on a ford automatic as far as i can tell;

      • 0 avatar

        With the parking brake you are placing that much trust in a pieced of 3/16″ cable, and the glue that holds the friction material on the parking brake shoe web.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m not solely parking the car with the parking brake, it’s there to ensure the car doesn’t roll away.

          How many times have you gotten into a car where the parking pawl is wearing out, you feel that awful “clunk” when taking the car out of park?

          I have a seven year old car with 110K miles that I bought new and use the parking brake religiously. My driveway is on a hill and I park the car there almost every night. My car doesn’t lurch when I put it in park (or gear). It operates as new.

          My second car had one of the famous Ford transmissions that would pop out of Park. The car rolled down my friend’s driveway one day. The worst damage was getting the car out of the culvert, I was lucky no one was passing by when the failure occurred. Since then, I’ve been a faithful parking brake user.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          If only one were able to both put the vehicle in park AND use the parking brake. Maybe one could even orient the steering wheel in such a direction that should both of these fail the curb would prevent the vehicle from rolling. Well we can dream.

    • 0 avatar

      “If a vehicle rolls away by itself, the only person to blame is the operator. ”

      You can also blame poor design. For example, in a 737 there is an elaborate system of stops to prevent the pilot from inadvertently selecting the wrong flap setting. You can’t just push the handle from 30″ to 0″. It would be silly (and fatal) for Boeing engineers to say we don’t need stops, we just need pilots to pay attention. Relying exclusively on falible humans is not good and safe design.

  • avatar

    A few casualties are entirely worth it for the magnificent cupholder (partially in the photo).

    I don’t think that the human factors engineers have figured out that the size and heft of a control raises its level of importance in the human subconscious – my 2015 Volt has a fob, but also a nice, big “gear” selector with a real parking pawl, and “feels” just like the selector from my 1969 Grand Prix… intuitive. You “know” that you put it in Park, because your muscle memory tells you so.

    These new “shifters” could make one intuitively think that they just switched their stereo from “FM” to “AUX”.

  • avatar

    As far as I knew the 200 applied the parking brake (and not auto shifted back to park) if someone tried to leave the vehicle with it in drive and running.

  • avatar

    It’s a dumb way to change what is such an important safety control.

    Think about this, they decided to change a familiar gear change system that has been in place for well over half a century and consumers were used to so they can have more space to put more infotainment options.

    If a few people are killed or accidents happen, oh well, look at how much cleaner the dash looks when you’re pairing your smart phone.

    • 0 avatar

      Interfaces change. There are good reasons to try to save the space and cost.

      What’s truly inexcusable is that the testers and software engineers appear to have missed the use-case.

      The machine is more than capable of telling that the driver is intending to leave the vehicle. Between the seatbelt sensor, the airbag weight sensor, and throttle/brake position sensors, it’s a simple matter of checking the correct boxes for an auto-park setting.

      Heck, a little fine tuning could even cover the “I open my door to look behind when I parallel park” scenario. (Door open, weight still in seat, do not lock parking pawl).

      This kind of miss really pisses me off because its fixable in software. It would not have cost them a single penny in additional manufacturing costs, and just a few hours of developer time.

    • 0 avatar

      Wait, what kind of system did they change? I’m confused… So, originally many vehicles used floor mounted shifters, then they were moved to the column, then, when bucket seats replaced benches and center consoles became standard, they moved to the console, but still somewhere in there Edsal tried the push button and for the last two decades plenty of vehicles have located their shifters on the dashboard. So which standard have you decided that the automotive industry should be beholden to? The floor shifter, the column shifter, the console shifter, the pushbutton shifter, or the dash mounted shifter? Apparently the rotary shifter has no place, or are you saying it should be on the column, the floor or console?
      What about all the commercial vehicles that have used the Allison pushbutton unit, mounted in any number of locations, for literally decades.
      Why can’t we just expect people to figure it out?

      • 0 avatar

        Both the floor and column shifter have been second nature for a long time now and were part of the early history of automobiles. Other experiments were rare and were market failures.

        But you already knew that.

        You then later down the page said yourself had difficulty with the new system and figuring it out.

        • 0 avatar

          I never said I had difficulties figuring it out, I said that there are intuitive issues with it, however I always knew when it was in gear. I also don’t feel as if we should allow the federal government to dictate every aspect of vehicle design to us.

          Jaguar uses a rotary shifter, no one is complaining about that one.

          The pattern it uses is the same as nearly every vehicle with an automatic transmission, P-R-N-D, the fact that I found its location to be unfortunate is no different than the RAV-4 I rented last week that I kept adjusting the HVAC instead of turning the radio down. Obviously, that’s more of an inconvenience and less of a safety issue.
          Saying that FCA can’t try to innovate because people don’t get it is beyond foolish.

          If the rotary selector isn’t for you, buy a Ford, it’s has a stupid stick where the middle seat belongs. Or the Chevrolet, which uses a something extremely innovative and unique, a lever that attaches to the side of the steering column.

          You can go buy the greigh automotive box, with the federally mandated controls, 30 airbags, the mandated drivetrain, and non-defeatable stability control. I’ll continue to let the manufacturers attempt to diversify themselves from others.

          • 0 avatar

            “Jaguar uses a rotary shifter, no one is complaining about that one.”

            That speaks to my personal theory that the more expensive a vehicle, the less likely you’ll see problems like these stemming from the nut behind the steering wheel.

  • avatar

    I recently had a Ram 1500 as a long term rental, and although I always set the brake, I had one occasion where I *thought* I engaged park, but I had actually placed the truck in reverse, and it beeped like crazy and displayed a message to inform me of my error. The bigger issue I had was nearly engaging park underway while attempting to turn down the stereo. That happened a couple times, fortunately the confusers denied that action.
    I liked the rotary knob, not as much as push button selectors, but more than the traditional shift lever, which is connected electrically, but not physically. Seems like a waste of my center console.
    Frankly I prefer my gears to be selected manually by a lever that either goes directly into my gearbox, as is the case of the T176 in my CJ or through a fixed linkage, like my Subaru, cable shifters almost always feel like their connected through rubber. I recall driving old Iveco (another FCA product) cabover trucks that had gear selectors so vague that finding gears was simply guess work.
    User error is impossible to eliminate, and therefore the rotary shifter is fraught with issues. The Ram indicates your shift in three different locations, on the shifter there is an indicator, in the gauge cluster there is an indicator, and when you select a position, the info screen announces your decision as well. If you can ignore all three of these, then yes you could potentially select the wrong position. Seems like FCA’s fault to me.

  • avatar

    Before commenters get too carried away throwing metaphorical rocks at the rotary shifter or the operators, note that the article says 34/43 (79%) of people confirmed that the shifter indicated that it was in Park, yet the vehicle still continued to move.

    If that is true, the problem likely has nothing to do with operator error or bad design of the controls. Something is broken, either through an engineering or manufacturing defect. That must be confirmed or ruled-out first.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d wager that the same 34 out of 43 people lied about it. Why? Because that’s what people do if they have the opportunity to do so.

      NHTSA – So, what happened?
      Driver – The craziest thing….I got out of my car, left the engine running of course, since I was only gonna be a second, and the damn thing rolled into a tree!!!
      NHTSA – And, you had the gearbox selector in “Park” at the time?
      Driver – Of course it was in “Park”!!!! What do you take me for, some idiot?
      NHTSA – Ummm…hmmmm……rriigghhttt. (Insert Lumberg picture) We’ll note this and get back to you.

      • 0 avatar

        it’s like doing tech support at work. Someone will be faffing about in Word or Powerpoint, then something (unrelated) will cause the machine to blue screen. Ask them “so what were you doing when it occurred?” they’ll probably blurt out “Nothing!”

  • avatar

    Good. There was nothing wrong with the column gear selector. It actually had several advantages, one was the series of gates. When I was taught to drive, I was taught to pop it into neutral in case of run away acceleration or other emergency and it wouldn’t go into reverse because of the gates. I hope all these new fangled alternatives get sued out of existence, they serve no purpose or advantage to the driver other than being different for the sake of difference.

    Another stupid thing is the push button start. There was and is nothing wrong with key start, and it’s again a safety thing. I know if I turn the key I can quickly shut down the car, it’s easy and fast, not so with trying to press in a button for a few seconds with the tip of a finger.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you also yearn for manual spark advance, drum brakes, and carburetors? The likelihood of runaway acceleration in a modern vehicle is infinitesimal, and even if it happened, there’s not a car on the road whose brakes (assuming they’ve been maintained) won’t overcome full engine power and stop the vehicle. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with keyed ignition… but there’s nothing wrong with pushbutton start either. Personally I love not having to fish for keys – proximity detection unlocks my door and I just hit the button, turn the knob and go.

      The truck gives ample, clear warning when you try to shut down while in gear, and if you’re inattentive enough to try getting out while still in Drive, I’m pretty sure you’d make the same mistake no matter how the shifter works.

      Also – “It wouldn’t go into reverse because of the gates” – sure, with a column shifter, IF you just push up on the shifter. However, most drivers’ instinct is to pull back and push up, since that’s what you routinely do to put in in Park, and in that case it WILL go right into reverse with potentially dire consequences.

      As others have said, if you don’t like the rotary shifter, don’t buy a vehicle that uses it. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head, there are 4 other 1/2 ton trucks to choose from that have conventional shifters.

  • avatar

    Parking brake. Every time before you leave the driver’s seat set it, even in an automatic car on flat ground. I always, always set the parking brake before I get out of the car. I’ve yet to have a car roll away. Problem solved.

    On a side note my wife never uses the parking brake. It drives me nuts.

  • avatar

    Just finished up a 2 year Ram lease – 2014 Ram QC with the knob selector. Truck was always parked on a slight hill and never used the parking brake once. Never had an issue.

  • avatar

    I own a 2014 Ram with the 4 WD and the rotary selector…both the transmission and the 4 WD system operate with rotary knobs. I have had occasion where when pulling into my garage, I move forward enough to light the front bumper sensors, and when it changes from orange to red, I hold the brake, shift to reverse, and look at the back up camera to assure my trailer hitch is clear of the garage door when it closes. More than once, when satisfied I had ample clearance, for whatever cock-eyed reason I would turn the dial back to the right as opposes to further left, thinking I had it in park. And of course I would get the too close tone from the front bumper sensors and realize the error of my ways. My guess is there are people out there, for whatever reason, are turning the knob right rather than left thinking they have it in park when it is actually in drive. My guess is more than 40 plus people have done it, but only that number has reported it. Personally, I like the rotary selector, but it is my fault I screwed up a couple of times, not Fiat Chrysler…in my opinion…

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