Park to Reverse Defect and Recall

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 at 4:39 pm    

Accidents injuring hundreds of Americans have been caused by a park to reverse defect for which one automaker issued a recent recall. Also called “false park,” such defects may have led to the recent death of acclaimed Star Trek star Anton Yelchin and also have led to other accidents dating back to the 1960s.

Defining Park to Reverse Defect

Defining a park to reverse defect depends on the vehicle and the era. Such defects have caused problems in Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and other autos dating back to the 1960s. A different form of defect causing park to reverse accidents also exists in recent models of Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 vehicles.

Detent False Park Defects

False park defects first arose decades ago after a detent system was developed to avoid the safety problem of drivers inadvertently placing a shift selector between intended gears — a placement which could damage transmissions or lead to inadvertent shifts in gears.

A detent is a mechanical “catch” to prevent motion. The detent system employed either a cantilever spring or a detent spring and ball moving over a “rooster comb” series of toothed gears and into a specified place. But if the spring was too weak to place the rooster comb at the bottom of the trough between the teeth, the vehicle could be accidentally left between gears.

The problem was compounded on some vehicles which had a flat area between “reverse” and “park” where the ball could rest in what was known as a “false park.” When slightly jarred, vehicles then could suddenly shift from the intended gear of park to reverse.

By 1980 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received a minimum of 23,000 complaints involving such transmission slippages in Ford vehicles, resulting in about 6,000 crashes.

But other automakers also had problems, including GM and Chrysler. However, the NHTSA found 14 times higher complaints against Ford transmissions as opposed to Chrysler and 12 times more complaints against Ford transmissions than those of General Motors.

The NHTSA then investigated park to reverse detent defects in 1966-79 Ford vehicles, later revising its targets to start in 1972 due to statutes of limitations. However, no massive Ford detent recall was demanded, and such problems remain today.

Electronic Gear Shift Defects

More recently, electronic gear shift defects have been found in hundreds of thousands of vehicles produced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Their new electronic gear shifters were designed and manufactured by German company ZF Friedrichshafen AG and placed in 2012 to 2014 models of Dodge Chargers and Chrysler 300s and in 2014 to 2015 models of Jeep Grand Cherokees.

Such electronic gear shifts do not allow a driver to physically place a car in park, reverse, drive or neutral in a physical sense, as drivers have done for many decades. Instead, a slight shift of a handle which always returns to the same spot sends an electronic signal to the transmission to shift gears.

This process is rife with gear shift defects, including:

  • Not accounting for driver expectations, conditioning and unfamiliarity with the new electronic gear shifter
  • Not clearly indicating whether a vehicle is in park or neutral when a driver may believe it is in park
  • Failing to properly shift into the proper gear and then self-shifting after a driver has exited
  • Lacking a safety override or fail-safe element to automatically put a vehicle in park if it’s left in drive and a driver’s door is opened and no pressure is on the brake
  • Lacking efficient alarm sounds or signals to alert a driver when a vehicle is not in the proper gear upon exiting
  • Not accounting for today’s almost silent engines which make it difficult for drivers to know if an engine is running upon exiting a vehicle
  • Having a gear shift procedure for placing a vehicle in park that’s nearly identical to placing it in reverse
  • Having a delayed reaction of at least several seconds for a park to reverse defect, meaning a driver may have time to be halfway out the door or standing near a vehicle when it suddenly starts moving on its own.

Any of these gear shift defects can lead to an accident in which drivers or passengers are injured by a vehicle which suddenly moves backward or even forward on its own power without a driver’s attention.

Park to Reverse Recall

After reportedly keeping such information from consumers while it sold more vehicles, Fiat Chrysler finally issued a park to reverse recall of more than 1.1 million vehicles upon being exhorted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in April, 2016.

More than 800,000 of the vehicles with defective gear shifts are in the United States. They include the aforementioned Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger vehicles, as well as about 13,000 Maseratis.

The NHTSA had gotten hundreds of complaints from consumers owning such vehicles, including complaints of 17 crashes and 28 injuries. It also noted more than 300 incidents of park to reverse defects involving Jeep Grand Cherokees alone. The NHTSA investigation then led to Fiat Chrysler’s “voluntary” recall, which might not have occurred without NHTSA influence.

For the park to reverse defect recall, Fiat Chrysler first alerted consumers to a problem in April, 2016, but noted that a fix was not yet available. Then in late June, 2016 it sent owners another letter, this time stating clearly that their vehicle was defective and instructing them to take it to a deal for repairs, which would involve installing new software which had become available.

Such a notice arrived at the home of Yelchin one week after he was killed when his parked Jeep Grand Cherokee suddenly rolled backward and crushed him against a security gate in his Los Angeles driveway.

Park to Reverse Defect Lawsuits

The parents of Yelchin as well as many others have filed park to reverse defect lawsuits against FCA to claim compensation for their losses or to press for punitive damages against the automaker.Other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against automakers for defective detent gear shift systems.

Some such gear shift lawsuits have been settled for millions of dollars in favor of plaintiffs. However, park to reverse defects remain on thousands of vehicles not yet repaired.

Talk a Park to Reverse Injury Attorney – Free Lawsuit Consultation

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or a loved one killed as a result of a park to reverse accident, then call and talk to a Board Certified Trial Attorney about your park to reverse accident. All consultations are totally confidential. All cases are taken on a Contingency Fee Basis. That means No Attorney Fees or Expenses Charged to You, Unless You Win.

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