Older Ram pickups investigated by NHTSA over reports of no-clutch starts

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DETROIT -- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 110,000 older-model Dodge Ram pickups over reports that faulty interlocks allowed vehicles to start without the clutch being pressed.

NHTSA said it received three complaints from owners of manual transmission Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups from the 2004 and 2006 model years.

It was reported to NHTSA in February that in August, an owner’s child was able to start the ignition without depressing the clutch pedal.

“The vehicle then moved forward striking another child resulting in a fatality,” NHTSA said in a statement today.

A second reported incident involved an engine that cranked without the clutch pressed down, and an individual working under the hood was knocked to the ground by the moving vehicle. There were no injuries.

NHTSA said it will open a preliminary evaluation to “assess the scope, frequency and safety-related consequences” of faulty clutch interlocks.

The safety administration begins a preliminary evaluation in the event of customer complaints or manufacturer service bulletins that suggest the possibility of a safety-related defect. Once the evaluation is complete, the agency either begins an engineering analysis or closes the inquiry. Based on the outcome of an engineering analysis, a vehicle may be recalled or the inquiry may be closed with no further action.

Chrysler released this statement about the matter today:

"In keeping with Chrysler Group's longstanding practice, the company is cooperating fully with this investigation. Chrysler Group vehicles meet or exceed all applicable safety mandates. Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group.

"Customers who have concerns about the way their vehicles are currently performing should contact their dealers. As with any vehicle, do not leave it unattended with the key in the ignition and follow correct operating procedures."

Gabe Nelson contributed to this report.

You can reach Nora Naughton at nnaughton@crain.com.

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