Fiat Chrysler recalls 812,000 cars because owners don't understand the shifter

You'd think that would be a make-or-break part of the test drive, before it ever left the lot.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read

Of all the wacky new shifter designs out there, none are more controversial than Fiat Chrysler's rocker-switch-style gearshift, which ratchets through the traditional PRND layout but always returns to its center position. In fact, the shifter is so troublesome that the conglomerate is recalling hundreds of thousands of cars because drivers keep screwing it all up.

Some 812,000 US vehicles are part of this recall, split between the 2012-2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, and the 2014-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee. There are another 300,000-plus vehicles outside the US involved in this recall, as well.

Chrysler lays out the problem succinctly in its statement: "Gear-selection is conveyed to the driver by multiple sets of indicator lights, not gear-selector position, and unless due care is taken, drivers may draw erroneous conclusions about the status of their vehicles." Forty-one injuries might be related to this issue, although no evidence of equipment failure was found. Thus, this recall is based entirely on driver error.

To remedy the issue -- or, at least, to mitigate bone-headedness -- the company will implement additional warnings and program the transmission to keep the vehicle from moving "under certain circumstances," even if it's not in Park. It's also urging affected owners to read their owners' manuals, which, I'm sorry, is not a thing that should need to be said.

Chrysler's already phased out the shifter, replacing it on the Charger and 300 in the 2015 model year, and on the Grand Cherokee in the following model year. It's not like it was impossible to decipher, though -- there are lights on the shifter and a gear indicator in the gauge cluster. Did nobody take a test drive?