Shifting a vehicle from park into gear and back again is among the most basic of driver functions, akin to learning how to use the brakes.
Yet, for the second time in less than 18 months, federal safety regulators are investigating why drivers of some Fiat Chrysler vehicles are having problems getting their cars to get into or stay in park.
In April, FCA recalled 1.1 million vehicles equipped with a vexing European-style three-position shifter that, according to a lawsuit, led to the June death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin. Now in safety investigators' cross-hairs: the four-stop rotary dial shifter FCA began using in 2012 to make more room in the center console of its best-selling Ram 1500 pickup.
New electronic shifter controls may have freed automotive interior designers' creativity to package their cockpits in interesting ways, but the rapid move away from the gated PRNDL shifter seems to have left consumers dangerously confused.
FCA is not the only automaker facing scrutiny on its shifters. Safety regulators say they also are investigating rollaway complaints from Jaguar Land Rover and have received scores of similar complaints from consumers involving a variety of other automakers.
For FCA, the stakes are high. The auto-maker already migrated the rotary dial shifter from the half-ton pickup to several other vehicles, including the Dodge Durango and the entire Chrysler lineup -- including the new Pacifica minivan.