NHTSA has questions about effectiveness of Chrysler's solution

Chrysler expands ignition-switch recall by 695,957 minivans, crossovers

NHTSA has questions about effectiveness of Chrysler's solution

2008-10 Dodge Journeys are part of the expanded recall.
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WASHINGTON -- Chrysler Group has expanded a recall over ignition-switch issues -- similar to those that prompted the General Motors recall crisis -- by nearly 700,000 vehicles following an investigation by U.S. safety regulators.

In a statement late Monday, Chrysler said that it would recall an additional 695,957 units of the Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans and Dodge Journey crossovers from the 2008-10 model years because of ignition switches that may slip from the “run” to “accessory” mode, shutting off the engine and deactivating airbags. The statement cited "an abundance of caution." 

The earlier recall covered some 196,000 units from the 2010 model year and the expansion adds vehicles from the 2008 and 2009 model years, Chrysler said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received at least 23 complaints from 2008 and 2009 model-year owners alleging defects similar to those that prompted the initial recall of 2010 models.

Of the recalled vehicles, 525,206 are in the United States while 102,892 are in Canada, 25,591 are in Mexico and another 42,268 are outside the NAFTA region.

The affected vehicles have ignition switches that could over-travel after being started and get stuck between the “run” and “accessory” position, even with the engine still running. When stuck, the switches could be jostled loose by bumpy roads or by drivers who bump the ignition module and fall out of “run” position.

“This action will shut off the engine and passive restraint systems, including airbags,” Chrysler said in its statement. Chrysler said dealers will install a new, more robust detent ring in the ignition module to fix the problem.

The expansion follows a NHTSA investigation opened earlier this month into the size and effectiveness of Chrysler’s earlier recall. That investigation is still ongoing.

In a statement, NHTSA said that the expanded recall addresses NHTSA’s concerns about the scope of recall, but the agency still has questions about the effectiveness of the fix identified by Chrysler.

More complaints

The agency says that it has received some complaints from owners of vehicles covered by the earlier recall indicating that the defect persisted even after the ignition-switch fix was applied.

The expanded recall, NHTSA says, “does not address agency safety concerns regarding the effectiveness of the remedy, specifically the possibility that the defect may result in non-deployment of the vehicles’ airbags. Accordingly, NHTSA is requesting additional information from Chrysler to aid the agency’s investigation and will take appropriate action based on its findings.”

A Chrysler spokesman was unable to immediately comment on NHTSA’s outstanding concerns about the effectiveness of the fix.

NHTSA is also continuing its investigation into some 525,000 Jeep SUVs over allegations of similar ignition-switch and airbag deactivation issues. That investigation covers Jeep Commanders from the 2006 and 2007 model years and Jeep Grand Cherokees from the 2005 and 2006 model years. NHTSA received 32 consumer complaints, including one involving a crash, alleging that the vehicles could stall if a driver’s knee bumps the ignition switch.

At the heart of both investigations is the link between airbags that may not deploy in a crash and ignition switches that inadvertently slip out of the “run” position while being driven. The agency is exploring the connection while the GM recall crisis continues. That investigation also has centered on the same link between ignition switches and deactivated airbags.

At least 13 deaths have been linked by GM to the defect, but the final number will likely be higher.

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter

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